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NEOMANTRA Black books


Perth post-metal group Neomantra will celebrate the release of their debut EP Henosis this Friday, January 14 at Badlands Bar. Five years in the making, and with some big names helping along the way, the debut was released in late 2021 but the COVID minefield has meant a delayed launch party. ANTHONY JACKSON caught up with vocalist/guitarist Royce Zanetic, drummer Greg Turner and bassist Lee Afentopoulos to delve into the deep dark waters of the Neomantra ethos.

Congratulations on the recording and release of your debut EP Henosis. How has the reaction been?

Greg: Thanks very much! The reaction has been pretty awesome initially, having been picked up by some pretty notable national metal outlets such as Wall of Sound, who ran a week-long premiere and advanced preview for us, The Faction Live, and locally receiving a heap of support and airplay from RTRFM on a number of their programs. We even had some international interest, including New Noise magazine based in Los Angeles, and a podcast in the UK called May Contain Metal, so for a first release we’re pretty stoked to have been getting some interest so early on and have been able to hit the ground running somewhat.

Henosis, great title. What does it mean?

Lee: Henosis is a Greek term coined around the time of Neoplatonism which means union with The Source or Monad, or oneness. In Eastern philosophy it would mean merging with God-consciousness, self-realisation or non-duality.

I have read that Neomantra songs are based in philosophy, what is the philosophy behind Neomantra?

Greg: Philosophical, metaphysical and spiritual concepts absolutely form the source of the songwriting, and are also the inspiration for the lyrical content as well. Royce is an avid reader, and has read countless texts and resources into the vast rabbit hole that this area of study opens up, so he is not short on content and context in driving his songwriting.

Our rehearsal studio is actually full of boxes of books that you definitely wouldn’t find in your mainstream bookstores! Royce has a deep interest in all things philosophical, more so than anyone I’ve ever encountered, personally. He’s truly a fascinating and intriguing person to be around and to open your mind to questioning the reality in topics around self, consciousness, the material universe and time/space, spirituality.

He explores concepts that we are conditioned from birth to believe and accept as ‘reality,’ with much of that reality essentially still being based upon significant assumptions that can only still be inferred through science and storytelling…it’s heavy stuff! So there is much profound and comprehensive philosophical sources to draw on for lyrical and songwriting influence that Royce dives deep into the rabbit hole with. His inspiration won’t be drying up anytime soon.

Royce: Basically, I am a reading geek and have been obsessed with philosophy my whole adult life. I wanted to get some interesting ideas across and the metaphysical themes came naturally. I was stoked to be able to write lyrics later and merge them with the tunes. I wanted stuff that makes people think and ponder in a serious manner. I guess that reflects my personality somewhat too.

Tell us about the creation of your songs, what is the Neomantra songwriting process?

Lee: Royce is the central architect of the songs. He has a simplistic, no-frills approach to songwriting;  you could say a “less is more” kind of vibe, which creates space and heaviness and defines the Neomantra sound. He has a strong sense of his musical self, is prolific and doesn’t stray from the formula, which makes my job as an accompanist a relatively easy one, which is nice.

Greg is an absolute machine who works tirelessly behind the scenes, creating soundscapes and fine-tuning the programmed drums on his acoustic set, along with writing his own parts and adding flavour. Greg and Royce have kind of a telepathic simpatico or whatever you want to call it; they know each other well, musically and personally, which makes for an organic songwriting process – egos aside, all ideas respected.

I’ve only recently jumped in, so my job has been relatively easy in that the songs were already there – I just had to learn them. Freeloading, pretty much!

Royce: After many years away from playing music, I decided to pick up the guitar again one day. As I didn’t really know anyone in the music scene anymore, and could not find anyone to jam with, I started mucking around with basic drum programming. I cannot play the drums at all myself, so this took some effort. My guitar shred skills had completely disappeared as well, so I guess the riffs I wrote were straightforward. However, I was more focused on attempting to write “interesting” stuff, within my capability.

I had steered more towards post-metal in recent years, and love second guitar layers etc, rather than trying to be technical. Plus, most time was spent on the keyboard doing the drums. I wrote all the demos from start to finish with very little arranging and restructuring. As for the vocals, they came at the very end, after my brother said “try some random yelling for some context” (laughs). I have never sung before either, and having been a fan of bands like Crowbar and Neurosis, I just had a crack a few weeks before the EP was produced and I think they really suit the music.

How was recording for the EP? Who did you record with? I heard Drew Goddard from Karnivool had a hand in the production?

Greg: The recording process was an interesting one in that it was essentially comprised of a set of discrete ‘components’ that were eventually all brought together at final production, over a considerable time frame, just short of five years due to several unforeseen delays along the way. It started out as some pretty solid instrumental demos recorded by Royce around 2015, which was amazing to have received co-production and instrumentation/drum programming contributions by Drew.

Perth has quite a small and tight-knit metal community, so it’s not hard to bump into our local heavyweights out and about at shows/venues. Drew had met Royce out and about on various occasions and connected on some common interests and experiences, and so I guess he took a more invested approach in the project, seeing some genuine potential in Royce’s music and wanting to be involved in some capacity just purely enjoying the tunes and wanting to kindly offer his help.

I don’t think at that point Royce was looking to do much more other than to produce his demos to a quality worthy of sharing with friends and family. But there was a definite vibe in these demos that commanded more be done with them to bring them to a more organic fruition, and much of this original material, in terms of the live instrumentation tracked, was sourced for the EP’s production rather than re-doing it all.

Fortunately, the drum tracking and engineering was completed within a week prior to the global pandemic hitting by Brody Simpson at Underground Recording Studios here in Perth, but this put an unfortunate temporary halt on the production progressing. So we eventually returned to Underground, where co-owner, and long time friend of mine, Mark McEwen took the reins as our engineer, doing an absolutely awesome job of piecing together the various sources of material.

My drum tracks, the guitar tracks from the original demos produced by Drew, bass lines, vocals and other instrumentation that was recorded/tracked independently by Royce and myself, in my wardrobe space converted to a mini recording booth, which was quite hilarious (laughs). In producing a crushingly huge sounding release. There’s just so much incredible talent here in Perth. Mark and Brody are simply world-class engineers as well as musicians in their own right, so we’re really stoked to have been able to work with them on our debut.

The Neomantra sound is quite unique, how would you describe your sound and what bands have influenced your musical evolution?

Lee: Spacious, pounding, brutal, emotive. Not techy or flashy at all. We all have pretty similar tastes in music. Jarod (Callow, guitar) loves his death metal, I like groovier heavy stuff. We all shamelessly love a bit of nu-metal too (laughs).

Royce has been influenced mainly by Neurosis, Tool, Crowbar, Deftones and Meshuggah, Fredrik Thordendal and in particular his Sol Niger Within album. A few whale noises, ala Fred, can be heard on Dualism (laughs).

In this current COVID age it seems like it is almost impossible to put together an event without the threat of it being cancelled due to lockdowns or people being put off by restrictions. How have you found life as band navigating the covid minefield?

Greg: That couldn’t really be closer to the truth (laughs). The band took quite a while to get off the ground initially back in 2017, with personal setbacks and complications perpetually faced by all members of the band, but eventually we were ready to get things off the ground at the end of 2019 when I went in to track the drums with Brody at Underground. As mentioned I finished tracking literally the week before COVID hit, so it was fortunate to have been able to keep things moving in the background due to the drums being laid down.

Since then we’ve actually rescheduled our launch show once due to COIVID restrictions, have had complications with securing venues, support acts with their own re-scheduling challenges as well. We decided to get on with releasing the EP back in September 2021, and just push out the show far into the future hopeful things might have settled down a bit by now. We still had some hiccups but the show is finally going ahead now it seems at the venue we wanted, so that’s a positive thing!

The official Henosis EP launch party is this Friday night at Badlands Bar, who else is joining you on the night?

Greg: Joining us are two amazing Perth bands. Firstly my personal favourite band on the circuit right now being Yomi Ship. Despite playing in a post-metal band my musical palette is very much at home also in the prog-rock/alt/experimental space and I totally get off on the amazing ethereal and atmospheric soundscapes they create. I’m also a huge nerd for odd time-signatures polyrhythms and math rock so these guys hit the spot massively for me. I think I burned a hole in their newest release Of Agartha listening to it on repeat for months in 2021!

We also have local doom/stoner act Twin Serpents on the bill, bringing a massive wall of low-ridin’ riffage to blow your hair back…featuring members from Bayou, Solum and King Zog for those with some local history chops.

Finally, our house DJ, producer and long-time friend Christopher J Brown, from Cyberstruct, Life Cult and other various ventures, will be spinning an awesome selection of post-rock, post-metal, doom metal, industrial and avant-garde between sets. It really is an epic line-up and we’re excited to have them all on board.

How have you been preparing for the launch? Can we expect any special surprises?

Lee: The other fellas have been hard at it for years, honing the sound and working on the songs. We have a rehearsal space where they have been recording their sessions to listen back on and scrutinise to improve. We’ve spent the last few months fine-tuning the set. Greg has tirelessly made the vinyl and merch happen and burnt himself to a crisp spending many hours programming his sample pad plus contacting venues, bands, promoters; all the typical groundwork stuff while being the glue and guiding light all the while.

He called me sometime in November to fill in on bass for Marco at the Suneater show. This was kind of funny and surreal, as I’d never played bass before and thought of it as kind of strange, given the wealth of talented bassists, ‘actual’ bassists, in Perth, so for me, the last few months have been a whirlwind of learning the songs, brushing up my bass skills and amassing the gear to do their sound justice. Tweak city.

Greg: We have done our best to put on an engaging show both sonically and visually, so hopefully it all hits the spot with the audience. We also have a special appearance by Julian Nichols, an amazing musician and friend who recorded the incredible violin piece in our song Dualism, so that will be a bit of a treat that doesn’t appear in our usual live set.

What’s next for Neomantra? Hopefully touring will open up sometime soon. Are there are plans in the pipeline for a tour? Or more recording on the horizon?

Royce: We are definitely keen to tour if it’s ever possible. Also, there’s no writer’s block here, so keep pumping riffs and ideas out. Now there is a full band so we can all contribute to the writing process. This excites me. There are heaps more demos waiting to be polished and produced as well. Obviously, would love to do an LP eventually but are focused on releasing a single and a second EP first, which should be released later this year, all going well!

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