Morean – aka Florian Magnus Maier – is a guitarist, vocalist and composer from hell. An impressive career spanning more than a decade of projects in metal, classical music and flamenco – his latest effort is the extremely ambitious supergroup Alkaloid, for whom he plays guitar and vocals. Alkaloid is a German/Dutch progressive metal band containing former and current members of Necrophagist, Obscura, Noneuclid, Dark Fortress and Aborted. They sound every bit as intense as their affiliations, with the added bonus of creative liberation and a dedication to pushing the limits of progressive metal music.
Morean was kind enough to answer questions about the band, his vision as both a composer and guitarist, science as well as the documentary about his piece, ‘Schattenspiel’.
Hello Morean, first of all congratulations on finishing what (in my humble opinion), represents some of the finest work in modern metal. The Malkuth Grimoire has been moving some serious air – it is just that extreme. When you first joined Alkaloid, did you think that you would be pushing the genre so authoritatively?
Thanks a ton! Based on past experiences with, for example Noneuclid, I try not to expect too much of a reaction to new bands and projects that I’m part of, so it’s really nice to be surprised like this by all the attention Alkaloid have been getting. Artistically, of course we set out to push the bar for ourselves, but it’s not like we sat down consciously to make it extreme. It happened because what you hear on the album was just what each of us needed to say. So the broad pallet of styles and influences just came about naturally, because that’s what makes us tick as musicians, not because we wanted to be avant-garde or anything. As a composer, you always have to create what you believe in, regardless of how the world will react to it, and in this case we are lucky that what came out resonates with our audience. A main reason to set up this band was exactly to have the greatest possible artistic freedom, and we just used that to its full extent.
You previously mentioned that no record labels were interested in signing Alkaloid. Were you surprised at all by this? Do you think it had something to do with how busy everyone was in the band, so you couldn’t be taken as a serious project?
No, I think it’s more the fact that we still had to make a name for ourselves. Labels are struggling to survive, and many of them don’t take any risks with new bands, all the more if they are hard to categorize like we are. If a bigger band with an established name had released these songs, it might have been different.
Your Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign was very successful. Did the amount of money (19,000 euros) you receive surprise you? Or did you guys expect to receive that much?
We were all very surprised, definitely! We just hoped to be able to make this album as good as possible, and the money that came in through Indiegogo allowed us to do exactly that. It all went into studio bills and the artwork – a lot of time and effort went into this album. Seeing how well this campaign worked out for us gives us a lot of hope and motivation for the future, and we are eternally grateful to all the people that made this possible!
Hannes mentioned that some of the Indiegogo money would go towards funding music videos, are you at liberty to mention any candidates?
We are currently looking into options for a clip; there are a few candidates and we like all the songs of course, but what song we’ll choose will largely depend on what is possible to shoot. So I keep it vague for the moment, because anything I say here might change 5 minutes later.
Dyson Sphere fuses progressive rock with death metal very nicely. What motivated you to write it like that?
It all came from the story and lyrics actually; every line of text demanded a certain musical response, and that led to this wild oscillation between moods and styles. In the second movement, Assembly, there was one concrete influence – I had just started composing it when Manu Chao performed a stone’s throw from my house. I came back from the show with all these reggae beats in my head, and before I knew it, I was writing something that could be called death metal reggae. Without this random Manu Chao show, that piece would never have sounded like this.
The Alkaloid record clocks at over 70 minutes of music. Were you guys concerned that the depth and length of the music would dissuade potential listeners?
Yes, somewhat. It was difficult to choose what would and what wouldn’t make it onto the album, since we had enough songs to fill three albums actually. We knew it’s all a bit too much for one album really, but at the same time we are so excited about each song on there that we didn’t want to skip any of them. You also see in the many reviews we receive that everyone seems to have different favorites – this confirms for us that it was a good idea not to sacrifice any of the songs in order to make the album shorter. Sure, it’s a lot to digest, but to us, the album makes sense like this a whole, and we were confident it wouldn’t get boring since the songs are so different from each other. It was important to us to present ourselves with as rich an album if possible, and for those who find it too long, there’s the skip-button, right?
You have a degree in Composition, but your guitar work with Alkaloid and Noneuclid is at a very high level – Do you consider yourself a composer first/guitarist second, or how does that work for you?
I’m mainly a composer, and have been for many years. Performing live on guitar and / or vocals remains an essential part of being a musician for me, but my reality is 80% composing, 20% performing. Between my classical work and all the bands, I don’t play nearly as much guitar anymore as I used to, and that pains me sometimes, but at the same time I’ve been very fortunate as a composer to have so much work. I guess I was always better at writing than at playing, and life happened accordingly. These days, I do feel a bit like a caveman at first every time I pick up the guitar again after months of not playing a single note of course, but I have no complaints that things went like this.
As a guitarist, you have a very distinguishable style and tone, not just on The Malkuth Grimoire but also with Noneuclid and Obscura. What influenced you to have that alien tone and very unique style of play?
I guess the search for something to say that hasn’t been said a million times over by others. This was the main focus in my composition studies as well; you do pick up a lot of techniques that others have invented along the road, but the much more important (and much more difficult) part is finding your own voice. I guess this principle translated naturally from my writing into my playing in the course of the years. Given enough time to practice, I can shred in a traditional way if I put my mind to it, but I will never be as good in it as others are, and with Christian and Danny we have two world-class guitar shred monsters in the band already. It wouldn’t add much if I tried to do the same and failed, so I prefer to add my own spice always – even if, initially, that also came out of admiration for players like Trey Azagthoth whose playing you can recognize after 2 beats, and in that, my influences are pretty obvious in a track like Cthulhu for example.
On that issue – many guitarists, however skilled, struggle with carving their own sound – What would your advice be to those players?
Look at everything you’re doing, then pick out the very best or most exciting elements of that, and focus on developing those as rigorously as possible. For example, if you compose a solo, and one bar in particular excites you more than the rest, try and base the entire solo on that idea and develop that as far as you can. The same is true for songwriting. Creation usually starts with a sort of brainstorming phase, where a lot of different ideas land on the table; the selection process that happens after is what gives rise to your own style. You are, after all, the choices you make, in music as much as in life itself. It’s good to go over your things several times like that, because with every decision you make to keep some things and get rid of others, you come a step closer to your unique voice. Art almost always starts from imitating others, but that’s just a first step, and focusing your energy on sounding like someone else is usually a gigantic waste of time. I mean, nobody will ever be better at being Yngwie Malmsteen than Yngwie Malmsteen, and conversely, nobody will ever be better at being you than you. It’s good to try and see where you are standing compared to others, but when you create, you should not think at all about what others do and how you measure up to that. Nothing new was ever created with everyone else’s work in mind – that just holds you back and makes you insecure.
You use B.C Rich Guitars and Fractal AxeFX gear quite a bit – Do you ever seek official support from any of these companies?
As far as I know, Fractal doesn’t endorse musicians, and so far, none of the bands I played guitar in was big enough to attract attention from guitar companies. If it happened now with Alkaloid and BC Rich guitars tho, I’d be very happy. Maybe the time has come to write to them. I’d be very proud to endorse them – BC Rich USA is one of the very few remaining guitar companies that still build their instruments by hand, and as a player, I do feel the difference in those instruments compared to machine-made instruments. The latter may be “perfect” on the surface, but very often lack the soul and character that a handmade instrument automatically possesses, and that translates directly to what and how you play, at least to me.
According to your Wikipedia page, you had previously auditioned for the Morbid Angel guitarist spot. How was that entire process for you?
Morbid Angel has been one of my favorite bands for a long time, and I just had to try when they announced the audition. I didn’t expect anything from it, so I was very surprised to receive a call from David Vincent after the first selection rounds. I had like 3 days to learn and record a video of me playing ‘Rapture’ and ‘Pain Divine’, and for the last round they asked the remaining candidates to play and record as much of their live album as possible. So I did almost all the other songs off that album in the week after, until my hands bled, and sent them videos again. At the end they decided for Thor, and very deservedly so, he’s a monster musician. I didn’t get to meet the band in the flesh unfortunately, all went through videos and email, but it’s definitely a huge feather in my cap that they would even consider me. I’m very proud of that, even though I didn’t get the job.
You have close ties to technical death superstars Obscura. Did you ever consider joining them as a guitarist when a spot became available?
No, because we were already very busy with Alkaloid behind the scenes and I have too many bands already. I consider myself a rhythm guitarist, despite the occasional solo I play, and anyway, I could never have taken over the huge shredding heritage of Christian Münzner. In terms of musical style and also on a personal level, it would be fantastic to perform with Obscura, we have been good friends for many years and I have enormous respect for them and what they have achieved. But I think they deserve a lead guitarist who can really focus on Obscura‘s demands, and even if I had the level of playing required, I would not be able to do that with everything else on my plate demanding attention as well. I think Fountainhead is a fabulous choice for the job; he’s a unique player and a very cool dude as well. I’m extremely curious to hear what they’re gonna come up with on the next album.
Recently the Dutch channel (NTR) filmed a documentary about your childhood, classical composition and metal music – how was that entire experience for you?
I guess those were my 50 (in this case) minutes of fame! For now, anyway…. I’ve been at it for a while here in the Netherlands, and there were other, smaller documentaries about my work made in Holland here and there, but to be exposed in such depth and on national TV was of course an incredible honor. I love the programs these guys make, and it was incredible how much effort they put into the documentary – traveling with a camera team all the way to my home town, to Santura’s studio, my old rehearsal room, even interviewing my grandmother. I couldn’t be happier about how it turned out, and it’s cool to get to show people a peek into the composer’s kitchen. A lot of work, thought and effort goes into my music, and it’s really cool to get to show some of that as well besides the sounding musical result.
What are some modern bands do you listen to at the moment?
Lately, what has been on heavy rotation is Lord Mantis from Chicago (unfortunately disbanded recently), Swans from New York with their fabulous new album, and Steven Wilson – I don’t like everything he does, but Insurgents is a contender for the album of the decade for me. I also got into the whole sludge-thing more; not heavily at all, but bands like Yob or Indian did impress me when I saw them live. Another band I respect a lot are Portal from Australia – that’s some of the best black metal out there. But I don’t get to listen to and discover nearly as much new music and bands as I’d like to, I have to say. That’s one down side of making music all day long, every day. There’s a limit to how much music one can absorb, and that space tends to fill up with your own stuff before you realise it.
This might be a big question – What are some classical music pieces that you really think metalheads can/should listen to?
Oh, that’s easy, because especially the 20th century offers a lot of very dark and creepy classical pieces and composers. To start with, I recommend:
Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
Krzysztof Penderecki – Polymorphy
György Ligeti – Atmosphères
John Oswald – Spectre
Pierre Boulez – Repons
Dmitri Shostakovich – anything really, but especially String Quartet #8 and the symphonies
Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Alexander Scriabin – Vers la Flamme & Poème de l’Extase
John Leifs – Hekla
Matthew Hindsen – Death Stench
You are very fascinated by popular scientists like Carl Sagan and Freeman Dyson. What is it about the observable universe that intrigues you so much? Any other big scientists whose work you enjoy reading?
Coming actually more from a spiritual / occult background, I have to say I find the mysteries of the real world increasingly fascinating. I’m an escapist at heart, and I’ve always mainly been busy with alternative realities to the one we know. This is part of an artist’s job – showing things and worlds that were not there before. But I admit that, in the past, I had underestimated the magic that so-called reality has to offer, and my problem with the occult at this point is that there’s still a vast degree of cheap symbolism, unquestioned assumptions and plain random bullshit clouding the very real and relevant core of the matter. After more than a century after the discovery of quantum mechanics, it seems science is starting to open up to the empirical investigation of ideas and concepts now that traditionally belonged more in the spiritual or psychological realm. Only last night, I saw an episode of ‘Through the Wormhole’ on Discovery Channel in which telepathy; morphic fields and the so-called sixth sense are examined in a scientific light. These things have been obvious for a long time to anyone who has experienced them in practice, so for the rest of the world, it’s nothing new really, but the advantage of science’s take on them is that we can see these phenomena as part of the natural world and its laws, rather than a matter of mere belief and auto-suggestion (aka “bullshit” in the eyes of science), and strip them of the manipulative mumbo-jumbo and superstition pertaining to the realm of religion and see them for what they are. Science might be as block-headed as religion at times when it comes to accepting the existence of things outside its traditional canon, but at least in science, there’s a tradition of admitting a mistake and correcting the paradigm according to the facts we can observe. There is no pretense of infallibility like in religion and spirituality.
In occultism, I also prefer the more modern writers like Peter J Carroll or Phil Hine who try to see “magick” as a school of psychic engineering, rather than a random set of variations on old superstitions. Luckily, as an artist, you don’t have the obligation of objectivity like in science, and I find a great deal of inspiration in trying to wrap my (very amateurish) head around exciting new scientific ideas and let them spark the creation of artistic visions.
But even more impressive than mere ideas and interpretations of the laws of nature, I must say I find nature itself: standing on top of a mountain or watching the refraction of light on the waves of the ocean, even just the complex arrangement of leaves on a tree or bathing in the light of the milky way on a clear night, fills me with an overwhelming sense of beauty and belonging that makes any artificially created god or demon and their subsequent rituals redundant. I spent many years sifting through my own and other people’s fictional universes, and always loved it, but I have to say no apocalyptic vision of any magic book can compete with the visions of for example Stephen Baxter, whose hard science fiction departs always from what is real, and tries to think those things through to their most extreme extents. (Check out his Manifold series for example.) It takes great minds to do that – and considering how little we still know about the world around us, this school of thought is bound to entertain us for many years to come.
Last question – We are all hoping to see Alkaloid on the road. Does Alkaloid have any tour plans materializing?
We are working on it at the moment. It’s gonna be a whole new chapter in our young history, and like with the album, we want to do it right. It’s never gonna be easy, what with all the other bands we’re engaged in, and we inherit the same problem these other bands also all have, which is to find the time and resources to get together and do stuff in a genre that lets its artists starve completely. But we founded Alkaloid as a real band, and are way to excited about what we’ve been doing to not try and play this stuff live on a regular basis. Hopefully, we can take the step onto the stages of the world very soon. It is a distinct goal of us to play as many concerts as possible in the future.
Edited by: NJ Bakr