Published Feb 19, 2011The Montreal, QC technical death metal scene has been going strong for the last two decades. Since forming in 1994, Neuraxis have been one of the bands from that community that have been able to hold onto their roots, despite numerous line-up changes. With sixth effort Asylon, Neuraxis continue to display the tech-death formula they've always adhered to, but they've also challenged the sub-genre. Experimental elements such as melodic segments and sporadic time signatures showcase some different approaches while still remaining ferocious and brutal. Although the last founding member (bassist Yan Thiel) departed prior to Asylon, its sound is distinctly that of Neuraxis. The early style of the band is maintained, thanks to the signature guitar work of chief songwriter Rob Milley, who joined the band shortly before the release of their debut, 1997's Imagery. Meaning "asylum" in ancient Greek, Asylon also takes on a much more emotional tone than their previous releases. Psychological themes are presented via vocalist Alex Leblanc's thought-provoking lyrics, offering deep insight into the singer's personal demons. Increased intensity is also brought on by the newer members, who add a much more progressive dynamic to the rhythm section, making this the most solid Neuraxis line-up in 14 years.
Was there a specific direction you wanted to go in for Asylon?
Milley: We didn't have any conscious direction that we knew where we were going to go; it was kind of more of an album that was inspired by emotional situations that myself and our vocalist, Alex [Leblanc], went through in the last few years, from line-up changes to personal things. It definitely brought out a lot of darker feelings ― frustration and sadness-type feelings. Not to sound all gloomy, but it was kind of a rough few years and that basically inspired us to write music that was much darker and a lot more vicious than what we were doing on the last few albums. It's definitely a lot more intense as well, we got some new members also, so they increased the intensity, especially on the drums, which helped create a more brutal album.
How do you feel about the outcome?
You know, with every album there's always some things you wish you'd done differently, which you didn't have enough time for. But, honestly, I'm the most proud I've ever been with an album that we've put out. I just have this really good feeling with what we did as a group, the music that I wrote and just the whole outcome of it. It's a great feeling.
Where did the dark and emotional themes behind Asylon come from?
Our vocalist, Alex, had some set ideas while we were on our tour cycle for our last album, The Thin Line Between. He had a vision of the way he wanted to write his lyrics, which were a lot darker. Going through some personal things helped and inspired him to really bring out the darkest of them. He said to us after writing the lyrics that it's like a diary to his madness and with each song he realized afterwards that this is stuff that he went through and that he's going through, and those emotional and psychological situations came through in the lyrics.
Why the title Asylon?
The term "asylum" was the initial album title that we had and it kind of tied in well with the chaos and craziness in the lyrics. But we found out that other bands had the term "asylum" already. [Alex] wanted to keep the same concept, so he did some research and he found that in ancient Greek, the word "asylum" is actually "asylon." When we found that out we actually really liked that term better. We agreed and that's how the album name came about.
Neuraxis have gone through quite a few members and most recently, there was a big line-up change right after previous album The Thin Line Between was released. What happened?
We lost our founding bass player, Yan [Thiel]. Before the touring cycle started he informed us that due to his job situation ― he had actually acquired an injury while working ― he wouldn't be able to do the touring for that album. At that point, we already knew we were going to have to find a session bass player for the tours that we had lined up. And afterwards, we just knew that having Yan in the band was holding us back more than anything, even though Yan was a founding member and a great friend of ours. He realized that too ― that it was holding us back ― so at a certain point we agreed and he just stepped out of the situation. He gave us the blessing, since he was a founding member, to find that replacement for him. With the drums, we were having some negative situations on tours with our prior drummer; it wasn't a good atmosphere to work in and we agreed that we'd have to part ways. But, it happens, it's not easy going on the road, it's not easy staying dedicated to a band like this because we're not making any money off of it. All of that happened and we found new members and it just really added more of a positive vibe to the band. It was for the better and we wish all the former members success in what they're doing, so it's cool.
How does it feel for you, being the only member left in the band who's been in it since the beginning, pretty much?
It's been a long journey. Going through all these members, I mean, it's been a learning process to see how a band works. Going through members, members getting older and myself getting older, it hasn't always been easy, but we always try and find somebody who's as good or better than the previous person in the band. It definitely also makes for each album having a new twist to it and it evolves with each album, so we're never repeating ourselves, 1) because we have new members and 2) because we don't want to write the same album every time. Some bands are good at doing that, but we always want to maintain the sound and style we started with while evolving into new things with each album. That's one of the benefits of having new members with each album: they add their personality and colour to it as well.
How has the Montreal tech-death scene changed since Neuraxis first started?
It's gone through different stages. There aren't as many bands from our era that are still going at it; it's mostly newer bands now, so it's cool that there's a new scene happening. There has to always be newer bands; if all the old bands just dry up and break out, then there's no scene left. It's cool that there's always a younger generation there to take the place of the older bands. If the scene continues to have success like it did in the past, then that's great. I mean, there are some really good musicians out there. I'm just wondering where it's going to go now ― what's the next step? Is it going to get even crazier technical or is it going to revert back to the simplistic era of death metal or metal? It'll be interesting to see where it's going to go. (Prosthetic)