We explore the band's comprehensive rebirth with frontman Michal Kusak.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
Technical death metal is far from an easy listen, but it's a rewarding one that pays dividends to those with the patience to sit through the array of sound. With each passing spin, the sonic influences become apparent and each respective musician showcases the best of their abilities while forming a uniform sound. In the case of Czechoslovakia's SUPREME CONCEPTION, this sound derives from a wealth of experience in the brutal death metal arena and has slowly but surely evolved into one exquisite beast of great ambitions.
The band's first EP, Liturgy of Spiritual Disturbance, arrived in 2009 as a side project for members Michal Kusak (vocals, ex-Despise, ex-Imperial Foeticide), Frank Serak (all guitars and bass, ex-Garbage Disposal, ex-Intervalle Bizzare), and Jirka Zajic (drums programming, ex-Intervalle Bizzare), all of whom coincided for Decrepit Birth-esque death metal. Shortly after, SUPREME CONCEPTION disbanded as each member pursued different endeavors. Come 2021 and Michal Kusak has partnered with guitarist Martin Meyer (Heaving Earth) to unearth SUPREME CONCEPTION as a revamped unit of unbridled force. On August 6th, the band will issue their comeback EP, Empires Of The Mind, complete with art by the talented Orion Landau and drums by Aaron Stechauner (ex-Rings of Saturn). Today, we bring you Transgression I: The Underlying Identity as the second single to be released from the EP, which serves as an apt sample of the talent and cohesive approach present within the 5-track effort.
Stream the new single below and read through our brief conversation with multi-faceted frontman Michal Kusak about the second coming of SUPREME CONCEPTION as the duo near the arrival of Empire Of The Mind:
Over a decade past ‘Liturgy of Spiritual Disturbance’ and you return in prime form with ‘Empires of the Mind’. With new members among the fold, where do you find Supreme Conception at this time of rebirth, especially with the EP being musically rich in its composition?
Kusak: When we wrote and recorded “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”, Supreme Conception was more of a studio project rather than a real band. At that point in time, I personally was heavily into bands like Disgorge (US) or Deeds Of Flesh, while Frank (guitars, ex Garbage Disposal, ex-Intervalle Bizzare) who was the composer, liked Suffocation, Decrepit Birth (the first album) or Hate Eternal. As a result, we came up with our own blend of technical brutal death metal. We did not want to use lyrics or the imagery typical for brutal death metal at the time, however, but rather something more spiritually charged, to create some sort of juxtaposition to the brutal music, and I think it worked out quite nicely.
There was a long hiatus after that record because we all went to pursue other musical projects, most notably Heaving Earth. Later on, I left the country and could not work with the rest of the guys actively either, but it was always the plan to create at least one follow up record under the Supreme Conception banner at some point. That plan finally materialized – thanks to Marty Meyer (guitars, Heaving Earth), we’ve got a new record under the belt now. We no longer consider Supreme Conception a project. We will expand the line up to be able to play live and we’ve already started writing new material, so there is definitely more to come and we will be much more active now.
It's great to hear that you've all given new life to the Supreme Conception entity. As you mention, it's much more than a side project and it's been given the attention it deserves. Touching a bit on the compositional end, there’s a notable departure from the band’s brutal death metal roots towards a more technical direction that radiates with elaborate musicianship. More than this being a mere display of musical ability, it’s well-refined and cohesive in its structure. Chris Donaldson’s mix also helps highlight the varied layers invested within the release. Where did you all find common ground when coming into the development process for the EP?
Kusak: Thank you for recognizing the effort we have put into this record. Since “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance” had set the bar in terms of technical level, we felt we could not do anything less technical with “Empires Of The Mind”. The way I see it is that the bar should go higher with every new record. I believe every death metal band should have the ambition to get better as musicians and as songwriters, and it should be clear when people listen to new records. When it comes to technical death metal, I guess there should be some evolution.
Personally, I don’t like listening to just another version of the same album again and again. I always appreciate when bands evolve their musical abilities and song writing. Since we came up with “Empires Of The Mind” more than a decade after “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”, the evolution should really be tangible. Of course, it would have been easier and more natural if there were two other records in between these two records we’ve made, but it is what it is. We wanted the production to be contemporary and reflective of the new direction, we thought a lot about the final mix and mastering. What Chris Donaldson did with the records of bands like Beyond Creation, Beneath the Massacre or Shadow Of Intent were absolutely amazing, so he was a clear choice for us. Despite the number of notes played on the record, he was able to give “Empires Of The Mind” a clear and yet powerful sound.
I think the cohesion comes from the fact that we built the record around a theme (or a concept, if you will) and that we actively worked on finding some common ground. Both Marty and I came from somewhat different musical backgrounds and our perception of music is slightly different, but we talk a lot, and our skills are in a way complementary. We paid a lot of attention to the choice of people we’d collaborate with because when you work with the right people, the results are almost guaranteed.
More often than not, these cohesive structures are reflective of the camaraderie present within a band’s ranks. Members bounce off of each other’s energy and the results speak for themselves. Would you say this was the case here? Aaron Stechauner and Jaroslav Petrik surely added some extra power.
Kusak: Absolutely. Though Marty and I do not have a long history together, we had shared quite a few friends within the local scene, but only got to know each other just a few years back. What I think really worked for us was the respect we have for each other and being open to work with someone from a bit different generation or with a different background. There have been some creative tensions here and there between us and it took us some time to find the common ground, but those tensions and being open to each other’s perspectives have led to a record that we both like and stand behind. I also believe that “Empires Of The Mind” has the potential to stand out of the crowd, exactly because of all that and because of its contents.
Aaron has surely added some extra firepower here. Marty and I had a lot of debates about the drummer we wanted to engage for “Empires Of The Mind”. We were not looking for a big name necessarily, but rather wanted someone who would be able to get into the songs and bring them to the next level. From that perspective, Aaron was a great choice, given his history with Rings Of Saturn or The Faceless. Beside interpreting the songs very well, he has contributed to the song structures and some arrangements. As for Jaroslav Petrik, the story was different. He and I spent many years in Despise together, we played numerous shows and toured around Europe. I had always respected his taste of music – which was very different to mine – and his way of thinking about vocal lines. Plus, he is a wonderful person, so I asked him if he could come over to the studio and work with me on the vocal lines. It was only natural to ask him to contribute with his own vocals as well while he was there. I really think his ideas and backing vocals have brought an extra layer to “Empires Of The Mind”.
Supreme Conception is rooted in genuine partnership, and it shows. As you’ve elaborated, ‘Empires of the Mind’ was a long time coming and the music that you began crafting a few years ago was originally intended to be for Imperial Foeticide. What sparked the shift into having this become ‘Empires of the Mind’?
Kusak: The story is a bit more complicated. Yes, there had always been a plan to come up with a follow-up record to “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”, but the collaboration between Marty and myself did not start with the intention to do music for Supreme Conception. The real reason was that Imperial Foeticide (which I was a member of) had drum tracks recorded for their album by none less than John Longstreth of Origin, but were unable, for a number of reasons, to finish that record.
So at some point, an idea came up that Marty could step in and help get that record over the finishing line while giving it a more contemporary feel as well. Marty was obviously thrilled about the opportunity to contribute towards songs that would have drums by John Longstreth. That did not work out due to some internal Imperial Foeticide issues, unfortunately, but we did not give up on the idea to do some music together, ideally for John’s drum tracks – even if it was not going to happen under the Imperial Foeticide moniker. At the end of the day, the founder of Imperial Foeticide did not agree to release those drum tracks to us, so Marty and I decided to show our middle fingers to that idea and do something regardless, and here you go: we have got “Empires Of The Mind” ready – maybe not with John Longstreth’s drums but still great. I think that is a much better outcome because we already have ideas for future records and the ambition to put Supreme Conception on the international tech death map!
What a crazy turn of events, but as it turns out, Supreme Conception was the ideal way to go about it. ‘Empires of the Mind’ comes equipped with a tantalizing set of illustrations by the talented Orion Landau. What drew you to partnering with Orion for this one? Perhaps one of his countless other covers?
Kusak: Exactly, it was Orion’s past work that drew us to him. We knew we wanted to work with an established artist and Orion was one of the people on our shortlist. I personally have been a fan of many bands on Relapse Records for years, and it was impossible not to notice Orion’s diverse work. Since he had worked with countless tech death and other extreme bands, we thought he would be able to tune into what we were looking for. Throughout the process, we exchanged a lot of ideas with him. These weren't necessarily ideas for the artwork itself, as we mainly discussed the concept behind the “Empires Of The Mind” and the lyrics and messaging in general. As a result, Orion was able to get into the concept and come up with his own interpretation. He is a real professional and it was very easy to work with him. We are definitely very happy with both artworks he has done for us.
Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Orion for the project? There were of course two pieces, one for the EP and one for the brilliant lead single ‘Harboring The Fractured Transcendence’, which pulls from the story of Hypatia and Cyril?
Kusak: We were definitely not looking for a typical tech death artwork for this record. Nothing against typical tech death artworks – I really like many artworks in this genre, but we wanted to do something different. Also, we wanted to have a standalone artwork for the first single, “Harboring The Fractured Transcendence”.
We could have used a variation of the main artwork for the single, but we really felt that the story that had inspired “Harboring The Fractured Transcendence” was so powerful that we had to come up with something that would reflect it and go straight to the point. That artwork outlines the connection between the past (the Great Library of Alexandria) and the present (the space exploration). Hypatia was such a unique character and so shamelessly forgotten that we almost did not have a choice but to dedicate that song to her. The world needs more smart and forward-thinking people like her, not some power crazy conservative Catholic bishops like Cyril.
On the other hand, the main artwork for “Empires Of The Mind” is much more abstract. It points to the power of the human mind and imagination – because its ability to decipher the laws of microcosmos and to find the ways to reach out for the stars is almost beyond comprehension. I am not sure we yet understand and appreciate these abilities both on the individual and the collective level.
There's definitely much to dissect from each of the two, speaking to the quality discussions you had with Orion throughout the creative process. Many will be drawn to Supreme Conception through Orion’s illustrations. That said, do you recall a time where you’ve been drawn to a band, movie, or even a book through a cover illustration?
Kusak: When I was a teenager, I was really fascinated by cover artworks of the original death metal bands – “Considered Dead” (1991) by Gorguts, “Testimony Of The Ancients” (1991) by Pestilence or “Arise” by Sepultura (1991) come immediately to mind, or “Last One On Earth” (1992) by Asphyx or “The End Complete” (1992) by Obituary too. I do not think I have to explain why “Butchered At Birth” (1991) or “Tomb Of The Mutilated” (1992) would make it to the list either, and luckily it was not just the artworks, but the music on these records was good as well.
More recently, I have learnt to appreciate artworks that were different – and sometimes smart in their simplicity, like the one used for “On Strange Loops” (2016) by Mithras. Here, the artwork was not the main attraction point – I knew Mithras already and would check the new record out anyway because that’s how I personally operate – I pick up new music, new books and new movies based on some research, so that I know what I am getting. Having said that, I may have bought up a few records based on the artwork, in search of something new and unexpected, but I do believe in the power of artwork and always appreciate it when I see that bands pay a lot of attention to every aspect of their records, including artworks, lyrics, and overall presentation.
Some great choices there, Michal. Death metal continues in the modern era. I’d argue that your EP cover illustrates the physical effects that your music has on the human brain. It’s a multi-sensory experience that hopefully sets the stage for additional Supreme Conception music to come. With ‘Empires of the Mind’ marking a new life and a new direction for Supreme Conception, is it something you wish to expand upon in the years to come, regardless of the countless other projects you find yourselves in?
Kusak: I agree it is a multi-sensory experience. There is a lot happening in each of the songs featured on the “Empires Of The Mind” record and I do understand that the number of notes can be overwhelming for some people, but that’s how we like it and we’ll continue pushing the envelope. We absolutely want to expand on what we did with “Empires Of The Mind”. That record is already a step up from “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance”, but the journey does not stop here. We have a bigger concept in mind and the concept will emerge with the next records. We will refine our style and will continue to move forward.
I do not think that the other bands or musical projects we have going on will stop us. For Marty, I think that Supreme Conception is the platform where he can write the music he likes without limitations. For me, it’s a personal affair as well – I wrote the lyrics for “Liturgy Of Spiritual Disturbance” when I was quite sick and off normal life for months and crafted that record with Jirka Zajic and Frank Serak with a vision of doing something special at the time. Twelve years down the line from the first record, the idea just continued to grow and there is also no time to be wasted. We want Supreme Conception to stand out of the pack and make every record count.
Empires Of The Mind arrives on August 6th, 2021. Pre-order your digital copy HERE.