Long distance relationships have wildly varied results but the recording of New Jersey’s Dytopia A.D.‘s second outing have yielded pretty much gold in the pantheon of proggy technical death metal. Lead guitarist Aki Shishido recorded his parts from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan while being deployed via the U.S. Army and the results resemble the thunderous sound of war captured in a bottle. The fact that the band employs sax, acoustic guitars, and choirs is not lost on the ambitious and epic feel of Rise of the Merciless, it’s a brawny death metal album with unexpected twists around every corner that works like gangbusters and is, surprisingly, cohesive as hell. Ahead of the album’s release we had the chance to chat with Aki and Chris Whitby via our set of Profile questions so head inside to read all the details and be sure to support them from the links contained within.
How did you first get into playing music, and have you achieved the level of success that you hoped for?
Chris Whitby (vocals, guitar, bass): All I’ve ever hoped to do is craft kick-ass metal music that fans can bang their heads to, and I think we’ve accomplished that. The release of our upcoming album Rise of the Merciless in July 2020 will be the culmination of two years of passionate song writing, performance, and engineering that I can’t wait to share with the world.
Aki Shishido (lead guitar): The very first rock band that got my foot in the door was the Rolling Stones. I started playing guitar in 1996 and discovered my favorite song to play by them was “Paint it Black” – so metal was a natural progression.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, and praised? (If you don’t have a story, please tell us any funny/embarrassing story.)
CW: As teenagers, Aki and I were in a melodeath band called Vigrid and played shows in the greater New York metropolitan area. I remember opening for Lacuna Coil and being totally starstruck by Cristina Scabbia. I must have been 16 years old, and she was so gorgeous!
AS: I remember this gig. I’m pretty sure this was actually at CBGB when it was still open. The other embarrassing detail is that we didn’t sell enough tickets and we had to plead with the manager to let us play. He ended up taking the entire sales cut and we played for free.
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
CW: The proliferation of technology has made recording and collaboration easier than ever. Rise of the Merciless was partially recorded from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan where Aki was deployed as a Major in the U.S. Army. This wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. On the negative side, the death and extreme metal scene has become saturated with stale acts. For every creative new band, there are two copycats recycling the same riffs and uninspired songwriting.
AS: I think that online music and technology has been a great leveler for the music industry. The fact that we can independently make professional sounding music and get an immediate audience is awesome.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music?
CW: Thematically, our songs explore the concepts of the occult, suffering, and insanity. Our songs don’t have a social message to share – maybe that’s immature, but I’d prefer that our music be an escape from some of the unpleasant realities of today’s world.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
CW: I think it was Roots by Sepultura. As an adolescent, it was easily the heaviest and angriest music I’d ever heard, and I soon learned that nothing could quite match the thrill of writing and performing extreme metal music. My parents were 100% supportive – they are the best. I still have the Ibanez bass that they bought me for Christmas when I was 15.
AS: Metallica. I was just learning how to palm mute with heavy downstrokes when I heard Master of Puppets for the first time. I couldn’t believe a human could play those riffs. At the time I started playing, my mother was a Presbyterian minister and still supported her son playing devil music in the basement!
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
CW: As a reader, I look for critics that can sift through the unoriginal drivel and introduce me to interesting and powerful new music. I think that some critics are too easily impressed by technicality – there are thousands of kids out there with great chops today. Instead, show me someone that can harness that ability with creative songwriting and memorable performances.
What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
CW: Aki is a U.S. Army veteran and doctor of infectious diseases. My resume pales in comparison – I work at a prominent FinTech company. My goal is simply to connect with fans that will feel the same exhilarating rage and joy when listening to Dystopia A.D.’s music that we did while writing and performing it.
AS: Chris hit it on the head. We’re making music that we want to hear and hope others will enjoy.
When you’re not obsessing over your own material, what are some of your favorite albums to listen to currently? (Feel free to include non-metal)
CW: I’ll go with Yellow by Baroness, The Sound of Perseverance by Death, and City by Strapping Young Lad.
AS: Most recently, Titans of Creation by Testament, Transcendency by PhaseOne and Chris has me listening to Death Atlas by Cattle Decapitation.
What is the 12-month outlook for you or your band? Any specific events on the horizon that the masses should be aware of?
CW: I’m just looking forward to the release of Rise of the Merciless in July and starting the creative process of writing our next album.
Summarize your band in exactly one word. (Disclosure: If you include additional words, we will select our favorite for the publication)
CW: A recent Rise of the Merciless review said that our music “touches on everything that makes metal awesome,” which is exactly what we’re going for. So, I’ll cop out and say “metal.”
Many thanks to Chris and Aki for their time!