It is an interesting thing to watch musicians take on traits or characteristics of other acts that they admire, however not imitating but rather building on those aspects they love, growing their own sound and introducing others to what inspires them. Decommissioned Forests is very much one of these groups, bring to life an earlier era of British industrial music, whilst creating their own niche of sombre electronica. So we bailed up lead vocalist, Max Rael, to get the cold hard facts and in his genteel London way, he said, yes. Time for tea on the grass and ants in boob tubes……
Welcome Max Rael of Decommissioned Forests, to the pointy end of Onyx, where we like to use black crayons to create our own black-holes.
Thank you for having me. It’s nice to be here. I have already broken my crayon, and managed to somehow get it all over my face and clothes without trying. Good job I’m wearing black.
Can you tell us how you joined forces to become Decommissioned Forests?
Daniel (Vincent of ‘The Resonance Association’) and Howard (Gardner of ‘Non-Bio’ and ‘Pillars of Golden Misery’) were making some fine menacing instrumental music together, and then asked me if I’d like to contribute vocals to a couple of tracks on their first album, ‘Forestry’.
I’d recently written some lyrics called ‘Three Black Holes’ to help me process something that happened to me years ago that I’d kind of buried and never really consciously thought about, and it felt important to get the words out into the universe somehow. I’ve never really done vocals in any of the other bands I’m in or have been in, so although it felt like a strange and scary request, it was also one I couldn’t resist. In addition to ‘Three Black Holes’ (which became just, ‘Black Holes’ on the album), the guys gave me two titles, ‘Asleep Under the Leaves’ and ‘Dead Air’ and I found just listening to the music they’d provided, words came easily spilling out on to the page.
We were happy with the results, got some good feedback from people and enjoyed the process, which led to me joining the band and thus we became an official threesome for this new album, ‘Industry’. I like working in a three, I like the creative energy of triangles.
You all come from a background of experimental noise and/or post punk music. What were you looking to create with this alliance?
I’d be interested to hear Daniel and Howard’s answer to this, but for me, in History Of Guns and all the projects I’ve been involved with, I try and open myself to authentic expression in the moment and to avoid ‘lust of result’ as Crowley put it. It’s enough to set up some things, or people, and just see what happens naturally, how the energy flows and how things pull together or apart. Which is just a fancy way of saying whenever I try and plan anything it never works out how I planned, (which is the basis of the lyrics for the track, ‘A Comforting Uncertainty’). That said, I’m a firm believer that it’s often the bits that go wrong that is where the magic is. It’s also a great way for avoiding those creative poisons doubt and insecurity, as there’s no right or wrong about anything, everything is just as it is.
From your vocals to the avant-guard tone of the music, Coil seems to big influence on the band. What does Coil mean to you and what impact have the had on your music?
I was due to see Coil for the first time at an abandoned tube station in London in November 2004, but the gig was cancelled on the day due to health and safety concerns and I was gutted. Then the day afterwards Jhonn Balance died. It was hard to process. I went a bit wrong and became semi-convinced that that Jhonn was sending some kind of astral message directly to me. Then ‘…And the Ambulance Died in His Arms’ came out and I was full-on obsessed. I bought copies and gave them to all my friends. It was an interesting split, people either absolutely hated it or absolutely loved it. Daniel was one of the people I gave it to, and fortunately he loved it and went on his own path with it, but I’d say it’s directly led us to where we are now and the music we’re creating. Howard also happens to be a massive Coil fan. Otherwise, we’re all into a wide range of very different things, but our shared love of Coil is the magnetic charge that attracts the three of us together creatively.
As Decommissioned Forests, you released your first full length album Forestry in 2019 and now in 2022, your second album, Industry Is there a link between these two albums?
They definitely feel like companion pieces. For, ‘Forestry’ there’s a sense of decay, rotting vegetation, rusting sheets of corrugating iron, overseen by an all-powerful and yet indifferent goddess. The ‘Ants’ suite on the new album can be seen as journey from that place, to where we’ve arrived on ‘Industry’, which feels more like scratchy polyester, poorly designed technology, broken society, broken relationships…
How do you go about writing music between the three of you for Industry and has covid changed how you did the writing process from 2019?
The usual process is that Daniel and Howard exchange audio files of noises and textures, which Daniel shapes into pieces and sends on to me, then I record a vocal and send it back. Daniel then puts in hundreds of hours of mixing it all into a finished thing. Sometimes I just record vocals without any music backing and send them over. Fortunately for us Covid didn’t have any impact on the process as we were already all working remotely. We had talked about getting together and jamming in the same room which obviously couldn’t happen, so that could’ve maybe taken things in a different direction.
Is it me or does there feel lika lot of pent up trauma in Industry?
Yes I think so… I think I consciously try to avoid too much of that in the lyrics, but then I’m a trauma person and mostly write from the subconscious so it can’t help come through either overtly or covertly. A friend of mine suggested ‘traumacore’ as a genre which I quite like. It’s difficult because there’s a danger of romanticising trauma, or feeding, rather than healing wounds. I’m always on the side of trying to move towards healing, even if the final goal is impossible, though I think focused anger and rage is often more appropriate than mute acceptance and forgiveness.
Is there a particular track off the album that is a favourite or you feel epitomises what DF is all about?
Tough question! At this point in an album’s lifecycle, we’ve heard it through so many times it’s impossible to have any objectivity. It’ll be interesting in a few years’ time to come back and listen again and see what stands out. The ‘Ants’ suite is pretty key… It changes all the time, but right now, today, I’d choose ‘Triggers’, and ‘Dust, Ashes and Other Pointless Ephemera’ as my favourites.
What does DF mean for you personally?
It’s a world out of sync or out of step with reality, a parallel universe which has tendrils into this universe where most of us find ourselves day to day for most of our lives. From this position of remove the Decommissioned Forests universe is free and able to respond and reflect un-defensively on what’s happening here but through a tangential almost dream-like connection. Hopefully as we go further in, we might be able to explore that universe in its own right, rather than just using it as a place to view here from.
I would like to ask about the short film, A Comforting Uncertainty, of which the title is a 9 minute track on the album and the score to the film, you all played roles in, that was written/directed and with special effects by Howard, all based on a dream by someone called Rick Matthews. Can you tell us about this slightly dystopian film?
Howard’s an amazing director and video graphics master with a twisted creative brain who has made a lot of interesting and unsettling films over the years. We were very lucky that he already had the idea for this short film bubbling away for a couple of years and put it forward that it could go with one of the tracks on the album, so that the music is a soundtrack to the film, and the film is a music video for the track. Both Daniel and I were enthusiastic from the start, and when we saw the shooting script, even more so. I’ve had a few discussions with people recently about how the film narrative can be interpreted, and whilst I have my own theories, only Howard knows his true intentions, and I think he’d like there being different individual interpretations out there, each no less valid than his. It’s great that thanks to YouTube, anyone, anywhere can see it easily.
Will there be more films in the future?
Yes. Well, I do dearly hope so. It’s easy for me to say when I just get turn up for the fun part of shooting it and don’t have to spend hours over a hot editing suite. We’re all keen to make more, it feels an integral part of the band, so it’s a question of Howard’s capacity, and I know he’s involved in a lot of other exciting projects. Hopefully we’ll start planning the next one soon.
DF kind of reaches back into that late 70s, early 80s British industrial sound which was often political or very raw ie Clock DVA. What are the musical influences that formed your taste in music?
Again this would no doubt be very different for Howard and Daniel, and I’ve always been pretty genre-blind and get obsessed over a disparate range of individuals and bands but other than Coil, I guess the most important bands for me relevant to this project would be things like: Killing Joke, Throbbing Gristle, Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel, CRASS, Joy Division/New Order etc. from the UK, but also Tangerine Dream and SWANS… and I guess it’s hard for me to contextualise things that formed my taste and things that I got into afterwards retrospectively because they accorded to my taste. I was 16 when Head Like a Hole by NIN came out and used to love stamping about to it at The Catacombs nightclub in Manor House in London, and that and bands like PWEI were really when I grew from my existing rock and pop foundation into a more industrial direction, which led me eventually to Coil.
What you find yourself drawn to now?
I spent a few years sealed hermetically in my music collection and am just getting back into actively seeking out and enjoying new music. LIOC have released a series of compilations by bands that love or are influenced by Coil and (apart from the things I’ve contributed obvs!), there’s been some astonishing things on them… Recently I’ve been exploring the ambient work of Felicia Atkinson and Grouper, oh and also the new Paul Draper solo album, ‘Cult Leader Tactics’.
If you could time travel once, anywhere, where would you go and why?
March 17th, 1942, Pomona, USA. To watch one the preview screening of Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ before the studio destroyed it.
So what is in the future for Decommissioned Forests?
We already have various tracks lined up for potential inclusion on the next album. There’s an evolution in sound from the ambient soundscapes of ‘Industry’ as the new stuff has drum tracks and maybe an increased sense vitality and urgency. Lyrically, I’m thinking about how brains and minds work and potentially change in response to environments and stimuli. Our big dream is to put on a live show. This presents a number of challenges, from how to recreate the sound in a live environment to the fact that I don’t live particularly near Daniel and Howard for regular rehearsals, and everyone’s busy with work, family and other creative projects, but we’re hopeful we shall find a way. We’re definite that we want to be creating unique pieces with each performance rather than just recreating tracks
Thank you for your time Max. Red pills are on the right, blue pills on the left and the white ones are a very nice mint flavour!
A big thank you to you Adele and for your (seemingly) tireless work to support the underground. We salute you!