THERE ARE few sonic hurricanes of such intense fearsomeness as that which is unleashed by Galway post-metal band Ilenkus, and in their new EP, Hunger, they have delivered their most uncompromisingly ferocious music to date.
Although the Galway quintet - John Guyett (vocals/guitar ), Rory Guyett (drums ), Chris Brennan (vocals/guitar ), Sam Ellis (guitar ), Robin Van Der Klooster (bass ) - are often described by the shorthand of ‘post-metal’, one of the mind boggling myriad of Heavy Metal sub-genres, in truth, there are numerous strings to the Ilenkus bow, as their sound negotiates between metal, punk, prog-rock, and hardcore.
“Ilenkus is a marriage between sounds,” Josh Guyett tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “There is a punk and hardcore ethos in our approach to energy. There is a sonic approach in how heavy it gets. It’s about treading a path between the dynamic and the sonic, and the energy and visceral elements. It’s all about those movements between those different poles.”
Hunger, which will be officially launched at the upcoming ‘FEAST presents…’ gig at the Róisín Dubh this Saturday, is four tracks, totalling 15 minutes, and telling one story of a man struggling between his public and private persona as his mental health declines and grasp on reality slips.
It is a ‘concept EP’, and marks a shift in the Ilenkus sound - toning down the prog-rock elements of their albums Rule By Thieves (2013 ) and The Crossing (2015 ), in favour of concentration more on the pulverisingly heavy side of the band's playing, in the process stretching metal into terrifying avant grade territory - exemplified by opener ‘Hunny Bunny’ (think the more extreme elects of Reign In Blood era Slayer and then some! )
Yet Ilenkus are not, to borrow a phrase from MacBeth, “sound and fury signifying nothing”. There is depth, artistry, and a highly focused concept at work, as well as a desire to progress and find new ways forward - art-metal then.
“The first two LPs were very ambitious, very dynamic, and diverse so it may seem counterintuitive to try and draw inwards, rather than expand outwards,” says Josh, “but that is the progression with Hunger, where we decided to rein everything in. As much as we like the other records, we found there was so much going on, we felt they were a little bit fractured, so instead we wanted to have something which had one vision, rather than it going off in different threads.”
Yet the band still make room for the fast and slow, quiet/loud dynamics(the screams punctuating the percussion in ‘Exhume’ is particularly effective ), and twisting lead lines ('Hunny Bunny' ) throughout the EP, but the overall impression is of the sheer ferocity and force of the music - and of a band with an intense focus.
“That was the intention,” says Josh. “We looked at what was most fun to play live and we found it was the heavy bits, where you can just go wild. It was also quite illuminating when writing the album, to look at what you were doing and cut out the filler, and say ‘That bit’s too meandering’, ‘That riff is just there for the sake of it, leave it out.' That was a liberating process.”
Hunger plays almost as a suite of music - think one song in four movements. There is still room for contrasts of light and shade, and contrasting dynamics, elements carried over into the song titles - ‘Hunny Bunny’ and ‘The Romantic’ are not those you expect to see on a record by a band like Illenkus. However, all these ‘contradictions’ are deliberate and serve the conceptual purpose of telling a story.
“The EP is a story told from the perspective of a protagonist who is deluded," says Josh. "The music embodies his inner rage, and tells the story of his crimes, but the lyrics are what he is telling the outside world, and also telling himself. We wanted that contrast between the music and lyrics to portray the imbalance this person is feeling.”
One of the most surprising aspects of Hunger is revealed in its most unlikely of inspirations - FKA Twigs, the British avant-pop/trip hop singer-songwriter. “Her singing is beautiful and soulful, as is her music,” says Josh, “but when you listen to her words they are quite dark and violent, and that was interesting, so we did that approach, but the opposite way around. There is something about her sense of dynamics, it was a big inspiration.”
The Hunger EP is already available digitally on Bandcamp, but Saturday’s gig will see it available as a 7” in a choice of black, red, or blue vinyl, housed in a sleeve by artist James Sheridan.
“James is the artist we have used for all our records,” says Josh. “He’s an old friend and a really talented guy. When we give him a brief, he comes back with just exactly what we want. He really understands what we want. This record was about contrasts and the art reflects that, with a white cover with a black image of a vulnerable female. It’s a really good match for the music.”
The EP will also be the debut released on the new FEAST Records label (the EP is being released in conjunction with five other European independent labels ). “We plan to release vinyl of Irish bands as well as distribute music physically for Irish bands,” says Josh. “There will be a dedicated merchandise and distribution table at FEAST gigs as well.”
Doors are 8.30pm. Support is from Cork post-rock metal band Rest and new Dublin hardcore/metal group Destriers. Admission is €12/10 on the door and via www.roisindubh.net