(In this engaging interview Comrade Aleks spoke with vocalist SAA from the Russian occult psychedelic doom band Megalith Levitation, whose newest album Void Psalms was released in the fall of this year by Aesthetic Death.)
If you remember our interview with Moscow-based coven IL and their heresyarch Vlad, I mentioned them as “one of three most solid and impressive Russian doom bands nowadays”. And as a second one, Dekonstrutor, don’t answer interviews (shame on you guys, shame on you Mitya!), then it’s much easier to get a response from Megalith Levitation.
This occult, psychedelic and ritualistic act grew on the poisonous soil of industry giant city Chelyabinsk, under its smoke-covered skies. This environment can break or inspire in some way, and Megalith Levitation took the best they could find there and effectively channeled it through their second album Void Psalms (Aesthetic Death, October 2021). Traditionally we get in touch with the band’s singing vocalist SAA.
Hi SAA.! Aesthetic Death presented Megalith Levitation’s new album Void Psalms in October. I see there are already a few positive reviews; do people understand the new material as you see it from your point of view?
Hi, Alex! As always with the review, the final score has very different shades of understanding and perception. Some of the reviewers, dig such music, some don’t. But it’s not a surprise that most of them feel the message and vibe of our release. Listeners who are used to other types of metal note the special “ritual” feel of the album. So for us it means that the message we were putting into our music is getting across. When we were working on the album, we relied solely on our own perception of music as we make it and this alchemy worked for us and it’s great to find out that we were able to transmit that vibe.
Some Russian bands… Okay, a lot of bands all over the world (which perform doom and stoner), usually point to Electric Wizard or Sleep as their inspiration. How did it happen in your case?
I cannot say that these bands had any significant influence on us. But I certainly do not deny their influence on the genre in general. Perhaps these bands are suitable for someone who has not listened to such music before to “enter” the genre.
Personally, I was very influenced by early albums of Tiamat and Anathema, this was the first doom metal music I heard. It happened in the second half of the ’90s, but I still listen to these releases with pleasure and enjoy the magic of the sound.
What was most remarkable feedback regarding Megalith Levitation? Did any bigger foreign bands noticed your efforts?
This time we’ve got plenty of positive feedback, mainly from outside Russia. Russian feedback is less than for our previous releases. We didn’t receive any notice from other bands too, but that’s most likely due to us being closed and not really communicative in general. But when we played together with Bong in Moscow and Saint Petersburg back in 2019 they really enjoyed the show. When we were on stage during the sound check they got out of the back-stage room and were there for the whole ordeal of sound check and after the show they said they were really impressed. Bong’s drummer Mike bought our T-shirt and later performed wearing it. It was very encouraging to receive such warm feedback from one of the bands that originally inspired us to make the music we’re making. Also we were pleased to find out that Italian design studio Branca Studio included us in their top Doom Metal releases of 2021 along with such names as Monolord, Count Raven, Alastor, Acid Mammoth and many others.
Count Raven recorded their best album, no doubt. Others are good too, but honestly the stoner-side of the doom underground is quite homogeneous, there aren’t many variations, like if Witch Acid Goats engulf the scene. Can you name some bands which surprised you this year with something really original?
Nothing much of a surprise happened this year in my opinion. But I will name a few releases that I would like to single out.
Пращур – Трощити, Abysmal Grief – Funeral Cult of Personality, Sönma – Ether, Neptunian Maximalism – Solar Drone Ceremony, Pententacles – A Supposedly Quiet Night, Stabat Mater – Treason By The Son Of Man. Although I am not a special fan of Mikko Aspa‘s and have not yet listened to the rest of the releases of this project. These are the few releases that first came to my mind, at least I listened to them more than 1 time.
Your first full-length Acid Doom Rites was released in September 2019, then a split with Dekonstruktor saw the light of day in 2020, and I remember you’ve said that the second album was almost done at the same time. How fast was Void Psalms finished indeed?
I can pinpoint that the drums for the album were recorded on the 19th of March 2020, since the day after we were playing a gig after which all events were prohibited due to COVID-19 lockdown and we didn’t play live for another year. After that we were taking our time to record everything else and the album was recorded in July 2020, but as you know was released only on the 1st of October 2021.
Such a long delay between finishing recording and release of the album was not due to us looking for a label; we contacted Stu from Aesthetic Death directly and he asked to get an album on CD-r, since he doesn’t like listening to music from streaming services and after file transfer. Postal services were working really bad back then and other hindering restrictions – the CD was on the way to Britain for the whole of 1.5 – 2 months.
After that Stu tried and tested the album for about a month to make the decision. The Aesthetic Death release roster was full and initially we planned to release it in April 2021, but we needed more time to do the artwork, and when it was finished it was Summer, which is a lazy season for any releases and we didn’t want our album to go below the radar. So in the end we decided to release it during Autumn 2021, since we were not in a hurry and it seemed like a better decision.
The album consists of four massive songs, and you already had over-20-minute-long compositions on Acid Doom Rites, so it isn’t something extraordinary for you. Yet how difficult is it to make such epic compositions sound solid and coherent?
This time the tracks came out a bit shorter than on Acid Doom Rites. And I can’t really say that we specially measure out the length of each track to make them epic and wholesome. We try to express ourselves and play it the way we enjoy and feel the magic work for us at the moment when we lay down the tracks in records, to keep them actual to our current band vibe as a whole. Megalith Levitation is certainly not a band which polishes their tracks for years before recording, and when it’s actually time to hit the studio over-practiced tracks feel boring and robotic to play for the musicians themselves.
How did the saxophone appear in the ‘Last Vision’ song? It was something no one expected and it fits the song’s vibe perfectly in the end.
The sax track was played by our good friend – Anton Maksimov. He played jazz in a local music college orchestra and played live with various bands. And once in a conversation an idea was sparked for him to feature on one of our tracks. We asked him to join in when all the other tracks were already recorded and explained to him in words what we wanted to hear and he made it work quite fast; From the moment he heard the track once and ’til the end of recording session it took him only one hour, and that’s including setting up and placement of mics. He really did a good job and added extra vibe to the track.
The album was released as a six-panel digipack with killer psychedelic artwork stretched on all three sides of the front cover. How did you get this amazing art? Did you have in mind some of specific songs or the whole album?
Just like previous releases, the artwork is done by GodLikeIkons and the original artwork is three-piece, each one on its frame painted with acrylic paint. The tape release print shows borders of the artwork and that was done intentionally. The painting took about 5 months to do. But we were not in a hurry and our opinion is that everything is done good.
Initially we also wanted to make a booklet with an artwork piece for each track, but that could potentially delay the release of the album even more. Speaking about the artwork, the concept of each track is depicted on the main cover, there are a lot of symbolic details and references to previous releases and future album. Moreover the artworks that we wanted to have for each track were used to print T-Shirts with print on both sides, so we got as much out of it as we could get.
Yep, T-shirts are just great! Does it help to gain some money after all? It’s not a secret that bands have almost nothing from album sales and only digital platforms and merch help a bit.
Thank you. With each of our releases, sales of merch, CDs, tapes and digital are growing. Thanks to this, we always have money for recording and releasing merch. The sales of the 2nd album were very fast. Thanks to this funding, we can afford more and more new experiments in creating and recording our music.
The album’s title, its artwork, its very trance-inducing vibe, make me see it as a whole spiritual work. What kind of “spirituality” do you have behind Megalith Levitation? Can you control it? Is it negative or positive? And so on.
It’s great to hear, that you have noticed the connection of the artwork and music; it means to us that our concept is working. We sure feel a certain spirituality when engaging in composing and performing our music. This is like an invisible stream of consciousness that powers the band and we feel like a medium trying to relay these ideas by pouring it out to our listeners as music. More and more people after the gigs tell us that they felt something alike to a trance or meditative state and we enjoy hearing such feedback since we share similar feelings to our music.
Are we able to control and steer that stream? – I’m not entirely sure. We just hope that we can have this journey along this creative stream while it lasts. Negative or positive, black or white, it doesn’t really make sense here, we enjoy having this alchemy work.
The title song from your first album appeared in the Doomed & Stoned in Russia (Volume 1) compilation this year. How did that happen? Megalith Levitation fits well in this format but… your track was put right in between a trad doom track performed by Marja Üldine and the obscure stoner band Mighty Hill… Damn… Hah, when I asked same question to Psilocybe Larvae yesterday, it was more clear… Well, I know Billy’s motivation behind this series of compilations but it’s very unbalanced in the end.
We took part in this compilation as an experiment to find out if such a compilation format fits the band. And in our opinion this compilation exposes Russia to th world doom music society. As far as I know the sequence of tracks was not discussed with the bands and we really didn’t bother about which bands we were neighboring.
Ultimately, we decided that this format is not really for us and we probably won’t participate in the future. Split albums work better for us, like our split album with Dekonstruktor, which in my opinion sounds very wholesome.
Why doesn’t such a compilation work for you?
It seems to me that compilations contain an excessive number of bands, and it is difficult for the listener’s attention to focus and single out something.
Did you manage to play live during 2021? Gigs have happened here and there despite the shutting situation we’re all into. Is it fun still?
Surprisingly, this year has been the most gig-active for us during all our band’s lifetime, considering that we don’t accept all gig invites, as we try to exercise a selective approach to the gig venue, sound gear, and line-up. In 2021 we played a total of 9 gigs and 3 of them were very memorable: Joy V fest in the Moscow Club Mutabor, where on 5 different stages there were all kinds of metal, techno, rave, experimental and unidentified genre performers. The whole place has a great vibe to it and feels like you’re on a post-apocalyptic party of the late 2050s.
The second memorable performance was the Shallow Grave V fest. We were performing the closing act of this open-air madness that took place in the middle of the forest 100km from Moscow. We shared the stage with great metal bands, which performed for 2 days straight for 600 visitors. This was a very enjoyable and atmospheric event. After this event, our fan base has grown considerably, every third person who purchased merch said that he first heard us at Shallow Grave V.
And the last memorable gig of the year took place in our hometown – Chelyabinsk. We got a massive crowd that was ready to go crazy and we enjoyed a lot of crowd support that night, thanks to all the fans and visitors.
You keep such an intensive creative pace, and you already have a new album in the works. Do you hold to some plan regarding production of the new material?
Such a creative pace is only due to the fact that we enjoy doing what we do and it happens in an unforced way entirely by itself. When you hit that creative vein, you need to grab as much as you can, you can say that the riffs and lyrics just come up by themselves, born from silence and thin air. We don’t have any plans and just take it as it goes. And sincerely saying the new album is already recorded and currently being mixed and mastered.
As usual, we’re not really hurrying with the release as we want to make a meaningful artwork to accompany the music and that requires significant time investment. Besides that, we were able to get some more gear for our Nameless Temple studios where we work on new tracks.