Harnessing grief for a progressive post-metal testimony of generous intentions.
As prevalent as social media publicized it to be with ongoing campaigns and contributions, mental health discussions are still far from normalized. One could argue that they remain taboo to this day, still causing discomfort to those raised within hypermasculine, patriarchal households. Needless to say, there's work left to be done and we'd be remiss to say that efforts will ever cease given the cultural norms so deeply engrained in our communities. It has to start somewhere and efforts across the internet are inching towards better support systems for those in need of mental health assistance, some of which yield significant impacts. New York's BINARY CODE are among those doing their part by putting their money where their mouth is with the progressive post-metal achievement that is their new full-length Mementor Mori.
With all proceeds from Memento Mori going towards Suicide Prevention, BINARY CODE aim to combat a heart-rending worry, one that inspired the raw nature of the record. The record itself is the musical embodiment of a human surrender to the darkness that swarms the mind amidst an ongoing mental health struggle, representative of the experience that guitarist Jesse Zuretti lived through with his partner's suicide. To visualize the concepts, the band enlisted the talents of renowned artist Eliran Kantor, who found balance between light and darkness to interpret Memento Mori in his signature Baroque style.
On the musical ends, Zuretti, founder of BINARY CODE and music composer for Marvel Entertainment, came together with vocalist Oded Weinstock, bassist Connor Appleton, drummer Austin Blau, and guitarist PJ Spilleti for an outing of atmospheric explosion that merges the technicalities of prog with the lush sonics of post-metal. As an added bonus, ARCH ENEMY's Jeff Loomis comes in to deliver an electric solo on the mighty fifth track Those I Out To Spare.
We go Behind the Cover of Memento Mori with Jesse Zuretti and uncover the roots of how Kantor's mournful depiction came to be:
Congratulations on the fantastic release that is ‘Memento Mori’. With comparisons to likes of Katatonia and Gojira and a guest solo by the mighty Jeff Loomis, it stands as a great follow-up to ‘Moonsblood’ (2016). Seeing as you’re a completely redefined band, is the excitement around a release the same as when you first stepped foot on the scene?
Zuretti: First off, thank you very much for the kind words. We’ve been around since 2004, so music and the world around us has evolved greatly. The way that we perceive music as an art form changes with the advancements in technology. If you’re not creating music for yourself, it’s really hard to create it for everyone else because there are so many people putting out content constantly. There’s an overwhelming barrage of different types of genres coming out and so forth, but there’s a lot of good behind that.
This record was written for us and that’s kind of why it took us so long to put out. It took us about three years to get this record out. There was no endangering reason behind that other than we just didn’t feel the need to rush it out. We thought that being happy with the record ourselves was enough. It’s a testament to how we feel about it and the way it all came out.
The music speaks to that for sure. Lush melodies, mixed vocals, depthful lyricism and varied structures add heart to this technically profound composition. How were you able to seamlessly integrate that emotion and deviate from the common expectation of prog or technical death metal just being a showcase of musical ability?
Zuretti: We abandoned the more flustered style of death metal, which is kind of where we started to a certain degree, and moved towards a much more spacious genre. We don’t really know exactly where we fit in because things have changed so much. The term prog has kind of been overused and misused more than anything. I don’t know if we quite fit in the prog arena really but I feel that we’ve kind of hit this post-prog metal of sorts. We just don’t have boundaries.
Playing music that has more space to breathe and with not a lot of notes going on removes your limitations. That allowed playing at slower tempos, playing less notes, and focusing more on chords and the way you can arrange elements. It gave us a lot of room to expand without having to clutter up what we were doing. We found that focusing on emotion was really what played an advantage for us. It’s nice to be able to step outside of having to look at my guitar to play a riff. We can play a lot of these songs on an acoustic guitar, which is very unusual for a band in our genre. In fact, about 75% of our record actually has acoustic guitar on it.
The visuals are definitely representative of this transition into simplicity and heart, especially on ‘Memento Mori’ in which you switched from Acid Toad to Eliran Kantor. What guided your decision to go with Kantor?
Zuretti: I’ve been a fan of Eliran’s work for a long time kind of unbeknownst to him. I always saw his artwork and thought, ‘Did somebody paint that recently?’ His paintings just look like they’re from the 1600’s. He touches on this very Baroque, kind of Caravaggio style. He has the lighting and all of these amazing techniques down but then he does these very surreal, unusual things that maybe Hieronymous Bosch would do. He also listens very much to who’s commissioning him with the story that they have and he nails it on the money. There’s no way to look at what he does and think it’s not good.
Eliran and my singer Oded have actually been friends for a long time. They’re both from Israel. Oded had first mentioned it to him before ‘Moonsblood’. I really wanted to work with Gaurav (Basu) of Acid Toad for that one because I’m a huge fan of his style. I love his culture and I can see his culture in his art. When we pitched the concept to him for ‘Moonsblood’, he really got it.
I know Eliran’s artwork is so emotional, so we went with him for this one. The band Sigh has an album cover he did where there’s a fancy, Victorian looking woman with a wheelbarrow and a stack of babies in it (In Somniphobia, 2013). You have to ask, ‘What is going on here?’ It’s so dark. How does he nail it on the money so hard? The work he did for Fleshgod Apocalypse really looks like it’s a painting hanging in a museum (King, 2016).
We wanted to keep the people who worked on this record interpersonal. Between Eliran, John Douglas (the vocal producer who worked on ‘Moonsblood’), and Aaron Smith, who has been a friend of mine for a decade at this point, we wanted to keep it interpersonal. We’ll probably use Acid Toad down the road for merch and other stuff. Much like music, the art needs to evolve sometimes too so it was good to try and change the tone. A cool thing about this art is that Eliran and his dad actually worked on it.
An interesting thing to also note is that there were some censorship issues with posting the cover art on social media, which in turn had an effect on the release cycle. How much of that impacted the anticipation you all had for the release on the original date?
Zuretti: If I were to look at things analytically, it has been detrimental against us. I’ve actually spoken to Facebook, which is really difficult to do. You have to be a real thorn in somebody’s side to do that. I just kept on beating down their customer service bots or whatever it is that they have. It was ridiculous.
They narrowed it down and created a filter specifically for us. When we try to put an ad through on Facebook, they have a filter that they created specifically for our artwork that tells me exactly why they didn’t approve our advertisement based on what they already said to me. It’s almost like a slap in the face. I would try to run an ad and we would get this response that was basically the response that they gave me verbatim just copied into their platform, which was very odd. They were just tired of dealing with me I guess.
They censored it because it shows excessive skin. That’s the ultimate, at the end of the day reason for why they censored our art. As you’ve seen, it’s pretty ridiculous. It shows side boob basically. You don’t see nipples. You don’t see butt cheeks. The problem is that if we advertise that image and a thirteen year old sees it, Facebook feels that they might be at risk. They’re always under scrutiny and they’re always being criticized, so I feel that they cut out any kind of variables that would make their company have issues. It’s probably not a personal philosophy. It’s probably just politics.
Definitely. There are many legalities involved there, especially if the thirteen year old’s mother got involved. Continuing with Kantor, what were you looking for when approaching him with the concepts and lyrical themes?
Zuretti: The record is based on a horrific tragedy that I ended up going through in 2017 with my girlfriend, who committed suicide. It was a horrible ordeal that was really weighing on me. The music poured out of me and Oded was able to write lyrics very fluidly. When we were coming up with the concept of the album artwork, Oded and his wife Ada went to a really cool art park in New York called Storm King Art Park. It’s this amazing, gigantic piece of property in New York that has these art installations that are bigger than buildings. He went there with his wife and took a really cool picture of her sitting on a bench with a beautiful background. It was very somber somehow, mainly because of the way that it was framed.
We went back to the art park with Ada and the band. We took some band pictures and then staged her sitting on the bench again so that we can do pre-production. I took this picture of her and photoshopped it to pitch to Eliran and best interpret what I meant in hopes of avoiding any misunderstandings. The eventual concept that came from it was that the subject had to be female and she had to be illuminated by some kind of light. We wanted it to be a little bit of a mental trick where you can see darkness but the darkness in the art is actually the metaphor for life. Life is represented by darkness and the subject has light on them. All of the white paint that you see on it is actually death. The concept in that is that existing in such a tortured state of mind and being so psychologically damaged by experiences you’ve had in your life is actually a lot darker than committing suicide. For that person, they see death as a positivity. They see light at the end of the tunnel, a means of getting out of this mindset and stopping the horrible feelings they feel every day. When you look at it, the darkness is life and the light is death. The individual in it is Eliran’s wife, if I’m not mistaken. She’s in a very battered position. She’s beaten down and it’s a very tragic looking posture. It just came together so perfectly and he absolutely nailed it. Looking close at the details of it, you can see the strokes, the canvas. It’s just so amazing.
I always appreciate his ability to integrate his wife into his paintings, which he did for My Dying Bride’s ‘The Ghost of Orion’ as well. The cover is synonymous with the message you’re conveying. The bleak color usage, erased face and really the overall mood of the illustration is the artistic embodiment of pain. As the songwriter, did the material take a toll on you at all upon bringing this all together?
Zuretti: The music actually did the opposite. When I started writing the music three weeks after my girlfriend committed suicided, it sprawled upon me sporadically. It just occurred to me that it was going to be the thing that kind of keeps me alive. It was one thing after the other for me. I’m a tough dude and I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life, but this crushed me. I was an ant to a human being. I was crushed by it. Then, I lose two aunts consecutively.
One and a half weeks after my girlfriend’s passing, I lost one of the closest aunts I’ve ever had in my life. Then, I lost another aunt. It was one thing after the other. I asked myself, ‘How am I going to survive this?’ I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t have any vices or self-inflicting things that I do. It was getting rough. I really needed to find an answer. I asked myself, ‘What if I start writing music?’ I write from my heart no matter what. ‘Away With Oneself’ and ‘Filaments Dissolve’ came out. All of these songs started pouring out of me. As they did, I started feeling better. It was almost like a musical purge. I was cleaning out my head of this debris that was weighing down my ship. The music ultimately saved me.
My bandmates were so good to me during this too. They were checking in on me, they would come visit as a group, and we would do things together. This and the inspiration to create music pulled me through everything. We recorded the album about six months after we finished pre-production. From that point, it was just a healing process. The music was very therapeutic because every time I listened to it, I was able to figure out my feelings.
It serves as an honest composition that clearly reflects the raw nature of the subject matter at hand. As you mention, you’re a very tough dude but I don’t think anyone’s immune to that sort of pain. It doesn’t matter who you are. Though improvements have been made in the realms of therapy and assistance towards those suffering from depression, it’s still a taboo topic to touch on, as if there were a stigma surrounding it. Why do you think that is?
Zurreti: If I’m going to be completely honest, I have two reasons behind it. One of them is a little controversial and the other one is pretty obvious. The first one is that it’s a generational thing. If you’re in your late 20’s or 30’s, your parents come from a different generation where they were raised by much harder people that had been through much worse than shit that we deal with. When you’re not feeling well, they tell you to buck up, keep your head up, and stop being a baby. It’s really not introspective.
On the other hand, men have a really hard time being vulnerable and coming to terms with their feelings. I’m a firm believer and I’ve done a ton of research on this. I’m actually planning to write a book on this at some point. Men need to be more comfortable getting therapy because it benefits the world as a whole. They’re afraid to talk about it. They’re afraid it’s going to emasculate them, challenge them, and make them weaker. All of those things make them go out every day with a packed lunch of dynamite. They have no way to talk about these feelings that they have. They then go out and take it out on people like coworkers, other civilians, and eventually family. It’s such an unintelligible thing to do when you don’t have somebody to help you through it. If men could just find the courage to face themselves, the world can start moving towards a better dynamic between one another, which I think would solve a lot of mental health issues. Men need to be on board with mental health stigma being removed more than anybody on this planet. It’s going to come down to us. We have to be okay talking about our feelings and working on them, otherwise it’s going to be very hard for other people.
The main issue that happened with my girlfriend is that she had a very tough relationship with her dad. Her dad did not believe that she had issues and she had severe mental health issues. She had borderline personality disorder. She had bipolar disorder. She had bipolar one and she had borderline, which in my opinion is one of the worst deals you could be handed in this lifetime. They’re such difficult things to deal with and require so much patience and cooperation. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be a very hard life to live. She didn’t have that. She had tough love. She had a ‘you need to get a job, you need to do this’ type of relationship. That starts to weigh on you over time. I’m not putting any blame on anybody but I know just from going to therapy with her, I would hear it. I would hear the discussions. I heard how bogged down she was by the lack of support from a very tough man. I heard that. I think that’s a really difficult thing to deal with.
It’s incredible to see how all of these discussions stems from the cover painting alone, which in turn speaks to the power it has. Was the final painting what you envisioned from the beginning or was it more of a result of back and forth collaboration between you and Kantor?
Zurreti: I gave him pre-production so to speak, which was the photo that I manipulated and made to look like what I had in my head. What he did was ultimately much more tasteful. He made it more real. What I was doing was a bit more fantasy looking in the sense that it wasn’t as real. He was able to use his wife’s posture and position to convey emotions that would’ve been completely missing from what I was after. What he did was ultimately for the better, mainly because he understood my vision better than I did. He understood things much more emotionally than I did strangely, which is kind of why he’s the king of what’s going on these days.
He wants to know where you’re putting the logo, what font you’re using, what your logo looks like. He cares about all of that stuff. You can’t just do whatever you want. You’re not going to put a Pokemon font logo for your band on it. It’s not going to happen. He’s very picky and all of this stuff speaks about him greatly. He’s such a good dude and so amazingly talented. I’m so happy to see him becoming this modern version of Dan Seagrave. He’s this guy that people are hiring left and right. He’s doing something that I don’t think a lot of people can do.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen great album covers ruined by crappy layout decisions that don’t utilize the illustration to a full potential, so it’s great to see he’s even involved in that aspect. Where did you find common ground with Kantor seeing as it appears to have been a seamless collaborative process?
Zurreti: Where we had a little bit of a discussion was the layout. I would send him ideas for how we wanted it laid out and the things that we wanted to do to make it look the way we envisioned. He would give me the most thoughtful responses about what I was doing and how it would be perceived. I’m a pretty stubborn guy, but I’ve made it a point over the last maybe six or seven years to be more open minded in listening to other people, especially if they’re an expert in what they’re doing. I am not an expert in what Eliran does. He can’t tell me how to compose music but he can tell me all the things where I’m going wrong artwise. This is his life. He cares about that.
We had some back and forth and then I ultimately sent him the layout that I did for the front and back. Tell me how mind-blowing this is. He tells me, ‘You don’t want your subject to have the logo facing it. If their face is going to the right, you want your logo going to the left.’ I would’ve never thought about that before. Changing it made all the difference. Stuff like that really matters. I respected his perspective of everything and I’m so glad we were able to come to an agreement on the way things came out. He’s a smart dude and I trust him.
It’s the little things, but they definitely matter with perception playing in a key role. The album’s cover is sure to introduce many to your music on the art alone. Mandatory question for us here at Heaviest of Art. Do you recall ever being captured by an album cover that perhaps made you pickup a record or even changed the way you engaged with it?
Zuretti: That’s a really good question. I think most recently I can say that Dehn Sora is mind-blowing. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen artwork where looking at it made me feel uncomfortable and then also made me feel emotions. It’s been a really long time. It’s very surreal, odd, and emotional. He’s also not very limited. His photography skills are amazing. His digital work is amazing. His painting work is amazing. It’s just one thing after the other and it’s mind-blowing.
I’ve also always been a huge fan of John Baizley’s work. I can see the hidden meaning in his artwork. I find his ability to do art to be so tasteful and I’ve always gravitated towards it. My whole left arm is all John Baizley artwork. I’ve had him tattooed on my arm for a long time. When I think about artwork, I always compare it to how he conveys emotions. I would love to at some point work with that guy. He’s a top guy for me.
I also love Aaron Horkey. Aaron Horkey’s artwork is so deep to me. Ten feet away from me right now I have his ‘The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring’ piece with Balrog whipping around at Gandalf. You have to get up close to it to realize how much detail is in it. His lettering alone is some of the most amazing lettering. He made lettering somehow impactful to me. He’s done these very ornate logos. I don’t know how he manages to make lettering so emotional. But yeah, those three are some of my guys big time.