Photo courtesy of the artist
Just two people created the hellish landscape that is experimental black metal group Bhavachakra's self-titled album, and the idea for the band itself came from a simple source. Kenneth Reda—chief songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and pianist—found himself listening to of Krallice, 1349 and Gorguts on repeat, and decided to start a band that incorporated those complex influences. With that in mind, the band traverses miles of musical landscape on Bhavachakra—it's bleak, meditative and dark music, cloaked in a dank shroud of heavy metal.
While the album is stacked with wicked blastbeats, devilish growls and roiling riffs, the incorporation of classical piano, mellow guitar plucking, and throat singing add a crucial dynamic element, as well. The inclusion of the latter was a very intentional choice. "To me, music is one of the legit forms of magic because of the impact and effect it can have on your psyche and your reality and your mood and your state," Reda explains. "[Buddhist monks] have this tradition with the throat singing that I think is pretty amazing."
During a phone call with Noisey, Reda opened up about the personal struggles that fueled this release. He recently reconnected with his father, who he hadn't seen since he was a baby, and found out that his dad had a second family in Hawaii. His dad used to play in 80s hair metal band Foxhunt, and Reda says that his father is proud of Reda's own musical accomplishments, but things are still strained between them. "Everyone has dark times in their life," Reda explains. "The album was like a cathartic way to get past that and use that to lift myself back up.
Bhavachakra is out September 23 on Translation Loss Records (preorders are live now). Stream the album in full below, and read our conversation with Reda about the band's sound, why Franz Liszt was a badass, and how Bhavachakra might just end us all.
Noisey: This was originally a two-person project, but the lineup has expanded since recording, right?
Kenneth Reda: All of my favorite bands usually have that classic death-metal lineup of four — two guitars, a bass and a drummer, like Death and Gorguts. Initially, Bhavachakra started off as a two-piece by means of necessity, with me on vocals and guitar and my very good friend Paul Stacks doing drums. After recording the first album with Bhavachakra, Stacks moved back to Texas to pursue new projects. Danny Morris from Maruta is gonna be the new drummer; my guitarist is Ryan Kittredge, and I have my good friend Terran Fernandez, he's an incredible virtuoso bass player. They haven't played live with me yet. We're going to play our first show (at The Haven in Orlando) on Oct. 17 with Kataklysm and Carach Angren. It's gonna be a pretty vicious four-piece. Danny Morris is one of the best drummers I've heard in the world and he's just gonna do a great job on drums.
Who are your favorite classical artists?
My very top one is Franz Liszt. He's a pretty incredible figure. He actually died on my birthday, which is pretty cool. He spoke seven languages, he invented the piano recital, he toured for 20 years, he never charged anyone for a lesson. He pretty much revolutionized piano. After (Liszt), Alexander Scriabin, and of course Beethoven. I like Russian pianists, like Tchaikovsky and Scriabin, and I like weird impressionists.
What do you mean by "weird impressionists"?
In a lot of black metal, like Second Wave, and some of the newer stuff, you can hear a lot of parallels. They're basically doing similar things, like minor chords — except instead of being on a piano, it's on a guitar. But a lot of the same sort of atmosphere and emotions that get brought up is what I find in some of the darker, more riveting classical music that I like. Adding piano to black metal or any sort of metal is a dicey proposition to begin with. I don't really enter it with preconceived notions or ideas. I just go with whatever sounds best.
What does the name Bhavachakra mean?
Bhavachakra comes from eastern Tibetan theology, part Buddhism, part Hinduism, and it's essentially just a name for a symbol of a large demon holding a wheel, and inside the wheel are all the different realms of rebirth that one can encounter in Samsara. Samsara is the existence we're in, the cyclical existence. The goal of life or meditation, or the higher goal that we're supposed to achieve, according to these theologies, is to get out of that wheel of rebirth. I see it as very similar to the capitalist machine that we're stuck in, where there's a grind that happens over and over and over.
The last song on the album, "Kali Yuga," is a reference to the age that we're supposed to be living in. There are four different ages of the universe before the cycle starts over, supposedly, and we're actually in the age of vice, which is supposed to be — which is funny, cause that's who I'm talking to — but the age of vice: the worst, most corrupt age before karma gets a breaking point and the whole thing starts back over. It's a pretty sad state of affairs right now.
It totally seems like that's happening, with the election and the environment. It seems like we're headed toward a big explosion.
We're probably just all going to die soon anyway.
That's also why I want to get the album done, because it's like, I wanna at least say while I was here I tried to protest this bullshit.
The "band interests" section of your Facebook page mentioned philosophical writer James Allen. How did Allen's writings help you get through your rough patches?
The passages in it are so succinct and well put. It kind of just makes you realize that you are like a rock in a stream, and you can only be effective as much as you want to be effective. He's amazing. The title of (the song) "The Diadem of Thought" is a direct quote from that book. It's something I just needed. I needed to have this absolute resolve or else I would have just broken. So between that and the band as an outlet, that helped me pull myself back together.
What's the metal scene like in Florida right now?
It's overwhelmingly impressive to see how much legitimately good music is coming from this insanely backwards state. I think maybe because of that, who knows? I see new bands forming every month that are just full of so much talent. And also, it's where death metal came from, so… Death was from here, way back.
Like Bhavachakra — everybody's always starting over.
Yeah, and nothing's really lost, it's just improved upon.
Emily Reily is going dark on Twitter.