Interview with Monsterworks

Monsterworks are back with a brand new album that comes just a step above their last massive release, Earth. This time, they’ve decided to take on the entire Universe and have gone to great lengths to explain the processes behind its birth in the “big bang” and its eventual “heat death.” Luckily, this isn’t something that we’ll see in our lifetime however. I spoke with the band’s frontman Jon about these concepts and other things, one in particular related to oncoming future material, which will be coming towards us like a speeding comet! The most PROLIFIC band that you’ve NEVER heard of is far from finished, folks… and this album is certifiably proof of that.

The Grim Tower: It seems only logical that the next step after covering man and the Earth would be the entire universe. But though this album does contain some sci-fi elements in regard to lyrics, the basis for the record is in science. So tell me a little about Universe if you will. What exactly does science know in regards to this thrilling concept?

Jon: I think we had decided to do an album titled Universe ever since we were halfway through doing Earth. It may have even been before that during the Album of Man sessions. You are right; it was just a logical progression, because I see Monsterworks as the very epitome of an “evolving” band. We make iterative changes (by natural selection of what seems to work best to us) with each album….but always allowing for a little bit of a throwback to the early mongrel style we had.

To the science:

In the lyrics I simply make use of current scientific consensus, at least for the first part of the album. The title track is about “big bang” through to the formation of stars. I find that quite evocative – firstly the mind-bending idea of all matter being condensed down to a singularity before time even existed and then later atoms condensing in the darkness until reaching a critical point where a natural fusion reaction could ignite the first star. That is the real “let there be light!” shit right there.

However, it (the big bang) is just a theory and maybe in a hundred years another one will come along to supplant it. It is purely based on the observation that the Universe is expanding and, if that is so, then it must have been much smaller in the past. Calculations suggest the Universe is 13.7 billion years old but that of course assumes those that work out such things are taking the right information into account. Something could have happened in the past which affects the true age but we are ignorant of it.

At the other end of the scale “Heat Death” seems to be the general opinion on where the Universe will end up, i.e. it will continue to expand while all energy is being used up and simply cool to absolute zero. This process will take trillions upon trillions of years and is kind of boring actually or a bit depressing – but science is for those that can handle the truth no matter what it is….or the willingness to adopt a new model if it has enough compelling evidence.

Other parts of the album (and the spin on the end of Heat Death) were inspired by Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Last Question” which affected me deeply. It has become quite central to my general outlook. Recommended reading. A full copy can be found easily in an internet search.

Let’s focus on the album itself. Where did you record this album and how long did it take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio? Am I correct to assume that everything went smoothly?

J: Earth Terminal Studios, Hampshire, UK. Five days tracking, four days mixing. In between these sessions myself and Marcus do some extra guitar work in home studios, but the bulk of the recording is done on that first five days.

The atmosphere is always fairly laid back and funky as four men share a space for that length of time. It is a residential studio so we stay overnight, eat too much junk food and drink just a bit more beer than you should do when the clock is ticking the next day. But we always get it done.

I do not recall any hiccups on this one…or any album for that matter. No ghost stories or spontaneous combustion to report.

According to the digital booklet, the album was recorded, mixed and mastered in 2012; two whole years prior to the current year. Does this mean that you’ve already finished about two or three more albums to be released later in the year or possibly in 2015? If so, that’s amazing.

J: Yes. Well, we have one more album recorded in 2013 to release, probably this year. We are hitting the studio this weekend (7 – 10 March 2014) to record a double album which, realistically, might not see the light of day until 2015; but it is in the works.

We had a bit of a backlog in unreleased albums so now we are clearing out the archives at a faster rate than we are recording new ones. Which is why you see a few Monsterworks albums appearing in 2013/14. Hopefully at some point someone will take notice who wants to invest in us. Imagine what we could achieve if we could do this as a full time job!

This album is a great mix of light and heavy elements, where Earth was more focused on single moods. There’s also a great deal of progressive elements on this album then in previous works. It’s also much heavier than the last record in some ways. What were some of the influences for the piece and what was the mood or vibe that you wanted to capture this time around?

J: Thanks for saying so. This album is just where we were at musically when it was written/recorded, which was trying to build on the vibe from Earth. The progressive side is coming through more and I am just getting older I suppose. For Christ’s sake I have recently been buying old Genesis LPs! Although I try to stay current with new heavy stuff where I can.

Most of the influence is philosophical rather than musical as I don’t reckon I listened to anything too different prior to writing. The mood has to convey something broad enough to do the subject matter justice. If we could spend four times as long in the studio we may have been able to push the production standard further but I wouldn’t change the music.

Probably the main difference in approach is that I am not afraid to let the songs take a little longer to tell the story now, whereas in the past I would think if it was past three and a half minutes I wasn’t trying to be chaotic enough.

I would like to discuss “Voyager” as it has a very interesting concept. It’s a question that seems to have baffled us for quite some time as human beings living on this watery rock, but do you think that it is truly possible that we’ll make “contact” with extraterrestrial beings in our life time? Or have we already? And what is Drake’s Equation?

J: The song Voyager is specifically about the NASA Voyager mission. Carl Sagan spearheaded a committee to place a “golden record” on each of the space craft which carries directions to get to Earth and recordings of sounds and images – it even includes instructions for how to play it!

Realistically the golden record is more symbolic than an actual serious attempt to communicate with extra-terrestrials but ‘you never know’ which is what makes it so intriguing. I will genuinely shed a tear the day that contact is lost with those little pieces of metal. It is a sobering and lonely thought to think of them speeding outwards into space so far from home.

It is truly possible that some day we will make contact with aliens? Possible. In our life time? Less possible. Have we already? Not in my opinion.

As mentioned in an answer above, the Universe is 13.7 billion years old which is just about the right amount of time for several generations of stars (at a few billion years each) to have been formed and gone supernova, thereby creating heavier elements that could ultimately form the basis for organic life. In other words it is plausible that humans are the first example of intelligent life to have had the chance to evolve in the Universe. Someone has to be first, right? Left to its own devices the Universe will produce multiple examples of life but it does require very specific conditions and a little luck to get as far as we have.

The angle I find most intriguing nowadays is the proposition ‘what is the inevitable conclusion of intelligent life?’ There are two options, i) be destroyed somehow (either self-destruction or a natural catastrophe), or ii) exponentially evolve our intelligence, understanding and technology until we reach….what? Think about it.

Drake’s Equation is a formula proposed by Dr. Frank Drake to illustrate the likelihood of there being intelligent life in our galaxy. It is filled with variables we don’t know the value for like “ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets” but that is ok because it works best as a starting point for an interesting discussion, rather than an actual accurate solution.

The Bridge” is another one that intrigues me, as it involves something that could revolutionize our civilization as we know it – light speed travel. Explain how something like this could occur and how it might work. What could be the implications of such a feat?

J: This song was admittedly going a bit ‘out there’. Light speed travel is too slow, so we need to commandeer wormholes, which I have called “The Bridge”.

A branch of theoretical physics called M-Theory requires there to be multiple higher dimensions, seven above the four we commonly interact with, in order to explain the nature of the fundamental building blocks of the Universe. One offshoot idea of this is that, if you can understand how the science works, then manipulating these dimensions might be possible to effectively allow you to bend relative space and reduce the distance between two points in the Universe. Simple.

We may be on the verge of such a discovery, or it might take another thousand years. However, I think on the balance of probabilities that being able to work such “magic” is no more far-fetched that a cell phone is to a medieval peasant.

The implications would be vast. You could go to Alpha-Centauri on a date which is a good way to impress chicks.

I remember Neil Degrasse Tyson mentioning the death of the universe on primetime news program (as he also disproved the zombie apocalypse at the same time, suggesting that the undead would be incapable of movement) and he most certainly mentioned this expansion that you talk about. It would be something of a “Universal Ice Age” so to speak, when everything had reached as you’ve said; absolute zero. Can you talk a little more about this, and what exactly does “Consciousness remains awake in the gap, a memory, dormant, in hyperspace” refer to? Do you think that the creator might be bringing about its own demise through the death of time as we know it?

J: Something like that. Read “The Last Question” and it might begin to make sense. My hypothesis is that mankind evolves into an entity that permeates everything, outside the constraints of the Universe we experience presently. It would exist in hyperspace as a consciousness but, even at heat death, it may not have solved the last question which is how can the net amount of entropy in the Universe be massively decreased?”

That entity is not a creator per se because it evolved from us.

The final thought for the release is “Outside Time” inspired by the genius of Isaac Asimov. Apparently, an ancestor of humanity will have the ability to exist outside of time and solve the universal entropy issue. I was first exposed to this issue through a recent Japanese Animation entitled Madoka Magica in which an alien species used mankind as guinea pigs in order to collect their energy as a means to suppress this universal entropy. It even described this entropy in the terms of a bonfire. But if we were even going to grasp stones, how could we even begin to solve this issue? Would we even have the technology or even the brain capacity to be able to understand it?

J: Modern man has only existed for two hundred thousand years, most of which time it was progressing very slowly just getting by in the world. Then in the last two hundred years or so we have seen massive innovation and advances in science. Think of what can be achieved in the trillion-trillion years before heat death.

Part of Asimov’s proposition is that we invent an artificial intelligence that can design its own successor. Once that happens we are on a one way ride to eternity.

Science fiction tends to tell stories about how alien races enslave us, or we enslave ourselves; never that we just have a happy life and listen to Enslaved. Science fiction uses allegories to teach us how shit we are to one another and there is some value to it, because we are shit to one another and we have to expose that and learn from it, but the Monsterworks way is: what if we weren’t shit to one another? Imagine what could be achieved.

Secondly, what might exist outside of time? Could this have something to do with dark matter? It would certainly be a realm of non-being, I gather. But could a living being actually survive in an area of non-being? What about other planes of existence, if one were to believe such a thing? Might they exist in the space outside time?

J: This stuff is so far outside our own experience that you can see it just deteriorates into a barrage of “ifs” and “buts”. No one holds the total answer. But we should think about these things and try to prove or disprove them, even if just as part of a mind game which is what I do…because I am a long time out of University and am too lazy to study particle physics.

Consciousness is something that puzzles philosophers and scientists alike. Maybe there is a way for it to, or it already does, exist separately from matter. If that were possible then the final ancestor of man (existing in hyperspace) may be able to solve the last question and reverse entropy to create a new Universe. In my story that requires it to destroy itself which is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, in effect: love.

Where I think this differs from the established views of world religion is that they are big on “love” but the entity they call God does not meet the high standards of what love is. There is no true love unless you are willing to utterly sacrifice yourself for those you say you love. In Christianity the Christ figure does “die for our sins”, i.e. makes a sacrifice, but it does not meet oblivion. There is no risk for Jesus because he ends up immortal at the right hand of God – or is God depending on how you feel about the trinity riddle.

In my Universe the entity (“God”, if you will) is willing to cease to exist in order to give a new Universe the chance to be born so that, one day, new intelligence will arise. Nifty, huh? And completely unprovable either way.

In an attempt to bring us both back down to Earth in terms or thinking, (and current time, where the universe won’t end for a rather extravagant number of years) I’m curious if you’ve seen any of these documentaries of supposed footage of mer-creatures. Apparently, due to the planet’s drastic warming conditions, things that have never been seen by man in ages are slowly reappearing in the ocean. As of late, there have been a couple sightings of human-like sea creatures. Do you think it is entirely possible that there could be some sort of underwater civilization deep beneath the darkest depths of the ocean, where the water pressure is too dense for man to survive? Or is that too much science fiction for today?

J: Ha. I did nearly spit out my morning coffee on this one. I really have not given that much thought. Anything is possible, but I tend to shy away from that kind of “documentary” like I do from reality TV. However, it is true enough that, apparently, Japanese fishermen are seeing an unusual increase in Giant Squid sightings. That is a real creature – I have seen a frozen one, although it isn’t that big, you can’t imagine it taking on a sperm whale. Those dudes literally eat those things for breakfast.

Another interesting thing that I’d like to bring up is that with all the effective uses for 3D printers, people have already designed programs that can mass produce and effectively “print” firearms. It’s rather disheartening to think that mankind would rather make weapons to kill each other than to create things to help each other, but that’s what I’ve observed. A recent news story was done on it and apparently the government stepped in to some extent, but I just don’t feel safe knowing that any individual with a 3D printer could effectively print an entire arsenal of weapons in a matter of minutes. What are your thoughts on this?

J: That is a real problem potentially but could be one of those things which are blown out of proportion as the media has a tendency to do. I doubt it is going to lead to the fall of humanity overall, but I suppose it is not helping. It has interesting implications for intellectual property because you are able to reproduce a functional gadget without buying a genuine one which someone spent a lot of time developing. It could lead to less innovation, which I am against.

But, well, it’s progress. If you can take a 3D printer with you to Mars and use the resources there as the processing material it becomes quite a handy technology.

According to the Huffington Post, the wave of radiation that leaked from Fukushima is finally making its way westward into the Unites States, with other countries to come shortly after. Conspiracy theorists have already stated that its “already here” and that we’ll all die if we don’t start taking certain herbs and supplements to ward off the radiation. Thoughts?

J: Would those be conspiracy theorists that own herbal supplement stores? I don’t want to make light of it, because that was serious incident and one good reason why we should be finding alternative forms of energy generation that do not require horrendously dangerous methods of production. Stupid amounts of free energy hit the Earth from the Sun every second which is a good place to start.

What looms in the future for Monsterworks? You’ve covered man, the earth, the entire universe and then some. Where do you go next? I’ve got to say that these recent albums are definitely some of the most intelligent and forward thinking metal albums that I’ve heard, so I highly respect and commend your work.

J: Thanks again; we aim to think forwardly.

The next topic is “Overhaul” which is just a bunch of thoughts on how we might improve/remake society. That album has no magic answers but carries over some of the concepts from Universe about mankind’s possible future. I think the main message is “educate, educate, educate”. If we want to improve civilization and smash down the barriers of inequality which are the root cause of pretty much all society’s problems, it starts with education of the children.

Thanks for another great album and for answering my always long-winded “when the heck is he going to get to the point?” questions. Once again, you’ve made a colossal effort that makes me think long after I’ve heard the album. A great deal of passion and precision goes into the music, it’s definitely universal. – The Grim Tower

J: And existential.

Very thought provoking. Sincere thanks!

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