[ jazz/metal ]
"How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe," asks Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein at the first sight of his newborn creation, "or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form?"
Like the good doctor, Eli Litwin toiled for two whole years on his own monster, the self-titled debut of his solo project Intensus, released earlier this month via Metal Blade Records. Where his fictional predecessor recoiled in horror at the unnatural ugliness of his creation, Litwin beams with well-earned pride over his own. The album is at once a thing of beauty and a blunt force trauma, a patchwork of spontaneous creation and piledriver intensity that is too busy bludgeoning you to show its scars.
"The idea was to make this really off-the-wall music that sounds like it was really intricately composed and rehearsed and seems so chaotic," Litwin explains, "but it was built in this Frankenstein way."
The secret lab in this case was North Jersey's Backroom Studios, run by Litwin's Knife the Glitter bandmate Kevin Antreassian. During one marathon session in late 2008, Litwin improvised 16 drum tracks, face-melting outbursts of maniac blast beats and doom-sludge intensity, with the intention of creating "an experimental free-grind album. I just played the entire album start to finish in one take, kind of like a free improv solo drum set metal performance."
Over the following year he then went back and recorded guitar and bass tracks, each either improvised or written immediately before recording. The only other instrumentalists are guitarists Jason Herrmann (Tetsuo) and Alex Nagle (Satanized), who previously played with Litwin in the bands Burden and Normal Love, respectively, and who contribute appropriate shredding on two tracks. Once the music was finalized, he enlisted eight singers to supply the "really intense metal screaming that I myself cannot do."
Each singer was tasked with writing their own lyrics, with Litwin giving them complete freedom. Some approached the assignment as they would their own music while others took very different paths. Between the Buried and Me's Tommy Rogers, the only vocalist who didn't record at Backroom under Litwin's supervision, turned in two tracks of nightmarish shrieking, growling and extreme vocal effects; Jesse Korman of The Number Twelve Looks Like You lent his frantic bark to some atypical subjects. "The song 'Time Killer Shitter' is a bunch of random facts from a bathroom reader," Litwin admits. "The lyrics for his other song, 'Colon Cleanse Your Sins,' are the directions for an enema."
Intensus was born as a hybrid of the two equally, well, intense forms of music to which Litwin has applied his intricate, pummeling drum style over the years. "I'd grown up playing metal for a long time," he says. "Then I went to Temple to study jazz, and after graduating I started getting into free improv, which I'd never really known about."
He became a regular presence on the improv and experimental scene fostered by Bowerbird, bringing his heavy metal ferocity to bear but leavening it with the subtlety and sparseness of improvisation. He formed the ongoing duo Gun Muffs with saxophonist David Fishkin, joined with drummer Pete Angevine and a rotating third as Bring It Inside, occupies the drum chair for gypsy-punk-jazz trio Inzinzac and, crucially, co-founded the inexplicable, ever-evolving Normal Love.
"Playing these shows where people were improvising freely," he says, "there would be these moments of tension that gave me the same kind of fist-clenching feeling that I get from listening to death metal. ...I decided that I needed to merge the two."
Anyone who has grown up on metal could anticipate Litwin's thrill at getting the call from Metal Blade, one of the genre's most important labels for nearly 30 years, with a hand in discovering or promoting everyone from Metallica to Slayer to King Diamond to The Black Dahlia Murder. "Cannibal Corpse was one of the first metal bands that I ever listened to in, like, the sixth grade," Litwin says of the label's best-selling band.
Litwin cites mathcore bands Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah, metal pioneers Death, and the hardcore/metal/hip-hop mash-up of Candiria as definite influences on his solo project along with the music he's been making in the metal and avant-garde worlds. "Intensus takes elements from all of my different projects, distills them all into one thing, and adds some other stuff," Litwin says.
Playing the material live would require the Herculean task of relearning music played once years before, but a sequel is in the works. Litwin's also recorded a lo-fi black metal album "as a stylistic exercise"on his laptop, and would like to assemble a group to play a combo of metal and free improv. "At this point I've been exposed to so much music that I love for different reasons, I really need to feed all of those musical desires," he says.
For more information, visit elilitwin.com.