Aeon Zen

Aeon Zen had been working on this album for almost two years and the result is truly captivating. “Enigma” was favorably named the Best Album of January on Grande Rock! The creative force and mastermind of the band, Rich Hinks, told Grande Rock about the future of the band, their expectations and progressive music in general. Hence take a look below…
Aeon Zen band pic
Hi Rich… The third release is not only your best so far but it will also give a major worldwide push to the band. We’ve named it the Best Album of January! Way to go!
R: Thanks so much, I really appreciate that! It’s really rewarding and humbling to see the praise for our new album, especially after the mammoth task that was involved with creating it!
Firstly tell us, how did you decide to make Aeon Zen a “full band” instead of a solo project that it was till now?
R: It came about from playing live. We toured with the Devin Townsend Project right in the middle of the writing and recording of this album, and after having such a great time playing with the other guys in Aeon Zen on stage, it just felt right to include them in the album too. I still write the music and perform many instruments but it’s more tailored to a group dynamic and fits everyone’s playing styles.
Which were the criteria to choose the musicians that you were going to cooperate with?
R: I have a clear vision of how Aeon Zen functions. It essentially started as a way for me to create my own music, on my own terms, and the guys that are in the band now (and the guest musicians) all respect that. They’re all fantastic players and have great musical ideas too, but (without wanting to sound arrogant!) it’s not a democracy, they all know that I’m leading the way, so to speak. Aeon Zen has created a certain sound, and that’s something that we can build on while still maintain the familiar core that I’ve built. (i.n.: That’s a true statement… Democracy is not always that good believe me!)
Finally, we see you having the role of the songwriter, producer, bassist, guitarist, vocalist on the band even though you’re playing the bass on the video. Have Aeon Zen taken the shape that you wanted to eventually?
R: I think every type of band, be it a solo artist; multi-instrumentalist; classic band structure; etc etc, all have their merits, and it’s often good to try and draw on more than one of those things. Before Aeon Zen was started I was actually looking into forming a normal band line-up before deciding to take on more or less all of the work load myself. Now that I am in a position to create a full band line-up for Aeon Zen it’s nice to be able to draw on that collective aspect of the band while still also maintaining the “solo project” type ethos that has got Aeon Zen to where we are now.
I’ve read that you were going to release this album independently till Lance added you on his label’s roster. Is that right? How did this cooperation with Nightmare records occur?
R: Yeah, we had even started the promotion and everything! The whole deal with Lance and Nightmare Records came about through promotion I was doing for the album, where a radio interviewer recommended me to Lance and it blossomed from there. The first two Aeon Zen were released independently on my own record label, but for “Enigma” I really wanted to go the extra mile and make sure that it had the ability to reach the audience that I knew it could. Working with Nightmare has been great for us so far, and we’re still growing and reaching larger audiences every day. Long may it continue! haha
Why did you name the album “Enigma”? Is this some kind of “enigma” to the listener or what?
R: That’s definitely one way of looking at it! The story of the album (as it is a concept album) fits in with the title, being that the central character is somewhat of an enigma, but the story is also pretty open to interpretation, so it’s fairly enigmatic in construction. The album explores the human condition and how we behave under certain circumstances, often not in the ways that we anticipate, showing an enigmatic side to ourselves. I also think just the word enigma fits really well with the moods and tones of the album.
Hence after two years in the making, what has changed in “Enigma” in contrast with the previous two albums? Is it the new members? What’s new and freshening here?
R: I took a whole new approach with this album compared to the previous two. In the past I have tended to write all the songs for an album, then later go back and record them, as I think the majority of bands do. However, with “Enigma” I really wanted the music to sound alive, in the moment, and spontaneous, so I decided to write and record simultaneously. A lot of what you hear on the album is literally the first take at the exact moment it was written. I would also record each section of a song in its entirety (guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, with vocals usually coming later), that way I know exactly how it’s going to sound and then I know exactly where the song should go.
Another thing that is very different to the first two albums is the structure of the vocals. The first two albums feature multiple singers, but only using one singer per track. With “Enigma” I wanted the vocals to flow just as well as the music does, so this time around we have Andi (our lead vocalist), myself, and several guest singers all intertwining throughout the entire album. This works especially well with it being a concept album!

How did you come up with the guest appearances of Nate Loosemore (Lost In Thought), Atle Pettersen (Above Symmetry) and Jonny Tatum (Eumeria)? Were the specific voices part of the general music idea that you had for “Enigma”?
R: Yeah, I definitely knew what style of voices I wanted for the album, like I knew certain sections needed more rock oriented vocals and others suited more mellow voices, for example. So I asked some of the finest singers in the styles that I was looking for to sing on the album, and fortunately they agreed!
You also have some extreme metal elements and a few death growls. You probably know that a number of listeners are complaining for those extreme elements. I think that any musical idea that’s well-performed and fits the actual music is good in general. Isn’t it so?
R: Isn’t that the whole idea of progressive music? I don’t have a formula that I use for songwriting or deciding on instrumentation, I just go with whatever I think fits the song best, and whatever I like the sound of. The way I often look at growling vocals is as another instrument, adding a different texture. Sure, they’re usually pretty atonal and not to everyone’s tastes but it’s nice to change things up and keep it fresh! (i.n.: Yeap, I do like that perspective…)
At this point do give us a hint about each song…
R: “Enter The Enigma”: I thought, what with being a concept album, it would be nice to start with an instrumental but without overdoing it. Keep it pretty concise and to the point, but still interesting as well. There’s also some pretty cool instrumentation here, mixing orchestral sounds with a saxophone solo in the middle section.
“Artificial Soul”: After the bombastic intro, I wanted to take my time and slow things down a bit, to focus more of setting the atmosphere for the story, as well as for the album instrumentally. I especially love the ethereal group choir vocals that we all sang at the end of this one.
“Divinity”: This was the first track to be written for the album, as it’s one of the only parts that wasn’t written while recording. Maybe I was just in a pissed off mood that day, but I’m pretty sure it’s the heaviest track on the album haha…
“Seven Hills”: Coming out of “Divinity” I wanted to take a real left turn and head into completely different territory, so here we have the softest, most beautiful track on the album. Comprising of piano, vocals, and orchestra, this track works as the perfect cool down from what precedes it, as well as working great on its own too.
“Warning”: I guess you could call this the “rocker” of the album. It features one of my favourite riffs as well, a mid-tempo chunky guitar riff that’s just perfect for grooving and rocking out to. It then gradually gets more technical until the end where we have an awesome blazing keyboard solo by Shaz.
“Turned to Ash”: Here we start getting into more prog rock territory, but still keeping the metal influences in the choruses. I think it’s another great example of how we can mix up lots of different styles and still keep it sounding cohesive.
“Still Human”: This one is probably the most diverse single track on the album (although they are of course meant to be interpreted in the album as a whole). We have a progressive, technically challenging opening section that leads into a more rocking set of verses, with ethereal choruses, and finally somewhat polyrhythmic outro section. Like I said before, keeping it fresh!
“Eternal Snow”: This track starts out as what seems a ballad, before exploding into a recall of “Divinity” towards the end. I love how this track grows and expands all the way throughout, featuring some really beautiful choruses, and really rocking solos too.
“Downfall”: I really wanted to go out with a bang, and I think that once you hear the riffs in this track, you’ll agree that it worked! This track has some of the best headbanging, rocking out moments on the whole album, as well as a cool more classically progressive middle section, before exploding back into the heavier territory again. Love it!
How did you come up with the idea of adding two bonus track on the psychical CD (that’s great for guys like myself that still buy CDs)? I haven’t heard of these songs so I’m waiting to get the CD in my hands. The 9 songs are like a 45 minute song… are these two bonus tracks part of that “big song” as well?
R: No, the bonus tracks are completely separate from the concept part of the album, which is why they’re CD only tracks. I wouldn’t want people buying the digital version to be missing out on any part of the concept, but these two are just a little something that we put in. They also don’t feature the guest vocalists, so it really gives Andi a chance to stand on his own and show what he is really capable of, and I must say it’s pretty phenomenal! “Survival” is a brand new track, and “Time Divine 2.0” is actually a completely reworked version of a song off our first album “A Mind’s Portrait”, so if you like this version then be sure to check out the original too!
Once again you mixed, produced and mastered the album. Your work is marvelous indeed. I guess there’s no one more appropriate than you when it comes to the final outcome of the sound. Do you like having the control of your music on the whole, huh?
R: Thanks so much! I love being able to have the final (and indeed first) say on it all. It just makes sense to me, as I’ve written the music, recorded it, and spent countless hours getting it all right, seeing as I know what I’m doing then I can finish it off myself too! Ultimately, I know how I want the music to sound, so what better way to get it sounding that way than to produce it all myself!
The video for the song “Divinity” may confuse the listener a bit. A few might take the band as an extreme one. How did you decide to release a video for this specific song? Are you planning to release another video to show a different side of Aeon Zen as well? “Seven Hills” could have been a good song to make a video for. Don’t you think?
R: There are so many tracks that we could have chosen for a single, almost any in fact, so it was more a matter of getting something out there that would kick some ass and show people that we mean business. I’m not sure as to whether there’s any one track that will represent the album as a whole, it’s really one of those albums where everything works together to create something special. We do have some really cool stuff planned with some of the other tracks too though! (i.n.: That’s good to hear…)
You’re playing on the HRH Prog Festival on April 6th right? Are there any other upcoming live events for the band?
R: Our first upcoming gig, and the first time we’ll have ever played this new album live, is on the 9th March at the Islington Academy in London. We’re playing a headline set and it’s going to be such an awesome night. So anyone reading this that’s in the area, tickets are on sale now, so get yours and come along and rock out with us! (i.n.: Go guys, I wish I could be there as well…)

Aeon Zen pic

How did the tour with Devin Townsend influence you at large? I think there are some Devin elements on the new album. What do you think?
R: The majority of this album was actually done before we did that tour, so I don’t think it had any real impact on the songs, but of course I’ve always been a big fan of his work, so there’s bound to be some influences here and there.
Thus, what does the future hold for Aeon Zen? What will the next steps of the band be?
R: Well we’re hopefully going to get playing live more, keep working on awesome music, hopefully the wait for the next album won’t quite so long! Basically just try and keep doing whatever we can to spread the word and get our music to as many people who are willing to give us the time of day haha…
You know “Enigma” needs several spins and time so as to get into it. How that’s possible nowadays when people tend to listen to fast-food-hit music?
R: Sure, but that’s another element of progressive music. People that are really into this style of music usually know that that’s what it takes to really appreciate an album, especially a complex one like this. But having said that, I think that most of these tracks do actually stand really well on their own, and have enough hooks to draw listeners in and reward them for taking the time to check us out. (i.n.: Sure they do so, no doubt about it…)
I’ve written: “…Aeon Zen know how to honor the term “progressive” and they are already making a major opening to a bigger audience with this album…”. What do you think of it?
R: Yeah, I saw that, that’s awesome! Progressive music isn’t just about wacky time signatures, crazy instrumental sections and chipmunk vocals haha… I really concentrated on the variety and the flow of this album, and I think that’s what makes it truly progressive, as opposed to individual progressive tracks. It’s cool that you picked up on it! (i.n.: That’s the real deal with prog music dude…)
It’s time for the Weird Questions now!!! How did you come up with the name Aeon Zen… what’s its deepest meaning?
R: I look at it to mean an eternal state of bliss, which is hopefully an emotion I come somewhat close to achieving through the music, although that’s not an easy definition to live up to!
Which is the record you wish you had written and why??
R: Whatever record has the “Happy Birthday” song on it, think of all those royalties! Then I’d be free to tour the world with as much crazy progressive music as possible haha… (i.n.: What a brilliant idea hehe…)
Which are the top 3 prog metal albums of all time according to you and why?
R: Well that one that really started it all off for me was Dream Theater’s “Images & Words”, so that has to be my number one. Then probably Circus Maximus’ “Isolate” and “Traced in Air” by Cynic.
Just imagine the best prog metal band of all time. Who’s who?
R: Aeon Zen!
What’s gonna be the future of music when the new generation are so used to itunes, Spotify, etc.? It takes so much time and money to make a song and then you see all these young guys listening to it through their ipods and with the crappy headphones! Some even think that Mp3s have a good sound quality! What can be done so to change this sad situation?
R: If I knew that I’d be doing it already haha… I think that most people really aren’t aware what goes into making music. It’s a lifetime of learning and dedication, with years spent on single songs. It’s not something that happens overnight. Life would certainly be a lot duller without music, but if people (which thankfully certainly isn’t the case just yet!) aren’t willing to support the music they love then that’s where we could end up. (i.n.: That how it goes guys more or less, so support eh bands you like…)
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music evolution, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
R: Probably something by Anal Cunt, just to see the look on their faces (assuming they have faces…). (i.n.: hahaha…)
You are standing in front of two transparent doors. Door number 1 leads to a huge garden full of naked models running, playing and kissing around while Door number 2 takes you to the Isles of the Blessed where you can interact with some great ancient philosophers and learn the deepest secrets of life, death and universe. Which one would you cross and why?
R: Number 2 all the way. I’m happy with my girlfriend haha…Plus I think the second door could create some pretty awesome music!
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
R: Maybe to some point in the future to see how much music (and everything else, of course!) has evolved. While it would be interesting to live some past events, and it’s great to learn from the past, I don’t really see it as being as relevant as where we’re all heading.
You have the opportunity to sleep with the movie-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
R: Hugh Laurie all the way haha. Total man-crush.
What do you think of Charlie’s quote: Beers, Pizza, Hookers? Which one is the most tasteful of all?
R: Who’s Charlie? It reminds me of those celebrity magazines that have things like “See what Joanne did!!!” on the cover, and I just think, “who the hell is that?” haha And I think I’d be lying if I went with anything other than pizza! (i.n.: Who else than Charlie Harper!)
If you were dating a very beautiful woman- who hated metal music and you knew it- on a loft with a beautiful view in the evening… which song would you choose to play to make her feel comfortable, to break the ice and why?
R: “I Cum Blood” by Cannibal Corpse. (i.n.: I can see the girl running down the hill screaming hehe…)
Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react? J
R: I don’t think CDs have resale values that high, so good luck to her! Hahaha…
That’s all for now Rich! Wish you the best for the future. Close this interview in your own way…
R: Thanks for taking the time to read this, if you’ve got this far! Please do check out Aeon Zen, and in particular our new album “Enigma” (although they’re all good!), it’s available from all the usual online retailers, and you can find out more about us at: Thanks everyone!