As dusk floods the sky on a recent Saturday night, Mozart’s “Requiem In D Minor” echoes through a Costa Mesa apartment from a pair of stereo speakers. The haunting orchestral movements and angelic vocals hum through the air, barely masking the drunken, tortured screams of Andrew Knudsen coming from behind the bathroom door. Sitting with one leg hanging lifelessly over the tub, which is lined with flickering candles, Knudsen, the singer for local symphonic black-metal band Empyrean Throne, is fully committed losing his mind in the name of creativity. His neck muscles strain as he wails hopelessly in the shadowy candlelight, his arms encased in his infamous Gorgoroth-like forearm gauntlets as his hands claw at the words “Marked By Chaos” written in dripping fake blood on the tiles of the wall above him.
The apartment belongs to Mick Kenney–producer, multi-instrumentalist and one of two members of Birmingham, England’s extreme-black-metal group Anaal Nathrakh. His latest project is Empyrean Throne’s debut full-length, Chaosborne. Though he’s recorded plenty of metal bands over the years, this is obviously no ordinary session.
As Knudsen slips further into self-imposed madness, Kenney instructs me to pound on the bathroom door, yell in the 28-year-old singer’s face and slap him. The unorthodox approach delivered an inhuman, blood-curdling scream that followed with an upheaval of projectile vomit directly into the adjacent toilet. “Grab the microphone and record that puking sound,” Kenney tells me, still seeking my assistance as the bathroom door is once again slammed shut to allow Knudsen to fixate on the inner force of the Black Flame and continue Kenney’s trademark vocal-recording technique, dubbed “Necro Sprinkles.”
The seemingly bizarre and disturbing vocal-recording technique is an organic approach to evoking raw feeling, intensity and passion from any artist who dares to give it a try. Many studio environments are paired with monotonous takes and strenuous hours that can drain purity and instinct, sometimes forcing the musician to question artistic choices. All of these elements can be poisonous to the music and the message being created.
“Necro Sprinkles is an outlet for that single musician at that specific time,” Kenney says. “This part of the recording process is a thing that most producers wouldn’t ask anyone to do.” Normally, musicians are conditioned to think recording an album is about playing their parts as best as possible. But that tradition often neglects why many musicians join bands in the first place: to fucking rage. The way Kenney sees it, it’s better to get a band wasted and pretend they are playing a show and give them a microphone and hit record. “When you record that, it’s coming more from within, and it’s natural,” he says. “There’s no stress. I take those Necro Sprinkles segments and cut that in with the rest of the album. It’s about bringing a more real aspect to the recording process.”
A few hours prior to the commencement of Knudsen’s Necro Sprinkles session, Kenney took the singer to the Black Knight Tavern & Grill to get him drunk. A measly baguette slice with goat cheese was the only dinner Knudsen was allowed to have before Kenney drove him the few blocks back to the apartment to start recording.
“I don’t do drugs, and you don’t have to be drunk [for Necro Sprinkles]; you can be totally sober and produce the same results,” Kenney says. “But this is way more fun. Look at [Knudsen] right now, wasted; he’s the finest specimen of humanity. . . . I’m not trying to put him in a situation that will embarrass him; he wants to do this. He’s not going to leave that bathroom until he’s done recording.”
Kenney, 36, initiated the concept of Necro Sprinkles almost 20 years ago with his best friend, Anaal Nathrakh vocalist Dave Hunt. The ideal situational motivation for Hunt, according to Kenney, is to lock him in a closet with the lights off because Hunt is scared of the dark. Other than Hunt, Kenney has conducted the technique with other European black-metal musicians such as Mayhem’s Attila Csihar and the Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth.
“[Csihar] was hanging out with me and wanted to record guitar—which he can’t play at all—but I gave him one anyway and told him to play a solo, and I hit record,” Kenney says. “He went crazy and looked at me and said, ‘That’s just my Necro.’ It was the best thing I had ever seen. I didn’t care what he played because he understood that whatever came out of him in that session was a specific entity, and I captured it.”
Of course there are a few Necro Sprinkles stories that belong in Kenney’s WTF file, including the time Kvarforth came in to record the day his mother died. “Even though that happened, he decided to suck vodka and Jack Daniel’s out of his friend’s foreskin to get himself into that fucked-up mind-state to feel evil,” Kenney recalls. “This was after strangling himself, puking and wanking himself off in front of me. I just nodded and hit record.”
Kenney comes from a punk background, heavily influenced by the “go hard and rage” feeling and creating music entirely from the heart, which applies to any and all genres. This mentality has attracted all makes and models of bands and musicians from across the world to Kenney over the span of his 20-year producing career and has worked on various metal albums in addition to rap and electronic records.
Moving from England to Orange County about nine years ago, he has since produced albums for Southern California’s metal scene with Bleeding Through, Urilia, Dawn of Ashes, Carnifex and now the quintet of Empyrean Throne. But Empyrean Throne has been the only Southern California and U.S. band to participate in Kenney’s vocal recording ritual. After a few days of physical, mental and spiritual recuperation, Knudsen says, participating in the unorthodox approach allowed him to be pushed out of his comfort zone and reach into the darkest parts of his soul. It doesn’t teach you anything as a musician, but it teaches you about yourself and how far you can push yourself to deliver a passionate performance.
“This record is very special to myself and Empyrean Throne; it’s our first full-length release, and it’s a monument to just how far we have grown and transformed as a band,” Knudsen says. “It shows how serious we are about our ideology and message behind the music.”
Although he agreed to endure a Necro Sprinkles session again in the future, there aren’t do-overs, for the sake of honoring its artistic nature. “I think that the application of the Necro Sprinkles technique speaks to Mick’s ingenuity and creativity as a producer, but is one of many weapons in Mick’s vast arsenal,” Knudsen says proudly. “He is the mad scientist, and I am the Frankenstein monster.”
Visit Empyrean Throne’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/empyreanthrone for information related to Chaosborne, as well as upcoming tour dates. Check out Anaal Nathrakh’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Anaalnathrakhofficial for announcements related to their new album, to be released on Metal Blade Records later this year, and for global tour dates.