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Criminal's Anton Reisenegger: "It is always easier to denounce something that's wrong than to actually take action and do something that is right"

Interview with Anton Reisenegger from Criminal
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 17 September 2021, 3:36 PM

Social unrest, certainly an escalation towards a change that can go both ways, whether for the better or for worse. No doubt that inspirations come in masses in order to lash out at those that through their corrupt ways paved the road to riots and protests. In Chile it was quite evident a few years back, and who knows if the seeds that were planted are about to explode in a bigger magnitude at the higher officials' faces. Criminal, long time running fusion of Death and Thrash Metal, are highly familiar with what is going on, writing their new album, “Sacrificio”, based on those past events. Steinmetal had a good talk with Anton Reisenegger, founder of the band, about the concept, and freedom within the music and more… 

Hello Anton, it is quite the honor to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Hey, it's my pleasure! I'm good, all things considered. Just itching to get back out on the road!

It has been quite a challenging couple of years for people in general. This pandemic sure has been taking its toll not only on the health side of things, yet also on the mental state of mind. It is not really certain if there is more fear or rather uncertainty in the air. What is your opinion about this whole matter? Are we being led somewhere or was it that time for another plague similar to one hundred years ago?

I guess we as a species had this coming for a long time. It's one of the downsides of globalization and it goes to show how unprepared humankind is for this type of event. The individual responses of different governments have been very hit and miss, but it is pretty obvious that the population's own discipline wasn't going to be enough and that some kind of state control was necessary. It's true that this has taken a toll on the mental state of a lot of people, me included, but we can only imagine what the consequences would have been if the pandemic had spread without control. At this point I just hope it blows over soon and that the safety measures that remain in place are based on science and rationality, not political interest.

Five years passed since the last Criminal album, but from what I could fathom from your new album, “Sacrificio”, translated as “Sacrifice”, the timing that you chose to work on the record was rather suitable. What happened in Chile exactly from your side of the table, back when the album was in the works? Are the civil unrest events going on still happening?

In October 2019, students organized to protest a raise in the metro fare by jumping over the tourniquets. They were violently repressed, and the protests started spreading, first across the capital Santiago, and later across the whole country. It wasn't just about the raise any more, but about decades of inequality, injustice and corruption. Even though there was some looting and arson, the reaction from the police was totally disproportionate, resulting in several deaths and over a hundred people losing their eyesight, either partially or completely, because they were shot in the face with metal-core rubber bullets. There were many pacific protests as well though, the biggest one with over a million people on the streets of Santiago. The one immediate consequence of the protests was that a new constitution is being written, and I'm hopeful that things will start changing. There are still some protests, but things have calmed down a little, partly because of the changes that are happening, and partly due to the pandemic obviously.

As a Chilean citizen, for how long has it been like this in the country? For how long the people have been suffering due to the vast changes in the economy that cause this unfortunate state of affairs?

When the country transitioned from Pinochet's dictatorship to a democracy in 1990, there was a lot of hope that we would get a fairer, more humane country. But, even though the country's economy grew, making Chile one of South America's richest country, the feeling in vast parts of the population is that they didn't get to enjoy the benefits of said growth. Corruption grew as well, with many politicians across the political spectrum being bought by the corporate elites to make the laws that suit them. This has fuelled all this anger and resentment that blew up in 2019.

Do you believe that Chile has lost its democratic identity completely? Is there any hope to make reformations in order to make things better inwards?

It's very complicated, because right now even some of the new political movements that said they represent the spirit of the revolt have been caught lying, cheating and committing acts of corruption. There is also the added danger of drug cartels infiltrating the political system. But I am still hopeful that truth and honesty will prevail and that we will get out of this better than when it started.

From my end, “Sacrificio” is a pointed finger, a blaming finger at the ones that are responsible for this situation on the local front. Nonetheless, it is also a scream of frustration, perhaps even a sign that there is no hope in sight. In your view, is this the path that “Sacrificio” is laying for the listener? To experience the pain of those who suffer?

Well, truth is I wasn't in the country when the biggest protests happened, and also I consider myself privileged to be a professional musician, so I never wanted to present ourselves as protagonists or even victims of the revolt. But as Chileans we have witnessed the injustice over the years and when this all happened we couldn't help but writing about it. It is, as you say, a finger pointed at the president, at the corrupt politicians, at the repressive police force, and at the greedy financial elite.

Other than stating the problem, which is quite varied and complex on its own, through “Sacrificio” is Criminal also offering a solution, a way for the people to make it better for themselves?

Well, I have a very personal philosophy that change has to start from the individual. We have to look at ourselves first and see what we are doing wrong and what we can do better. It is always easier to denounce something that's wrong than to actually take action and do something that is right. I hope this comes through in the lyrics.

The beautiful, yet immensely tragic, artwork appears to describe quite literally what has been happening in the country, yet not just Chile but other countries worldwide, where democracy is on the brink of termination. How do you feel about this artwork? What is bothering you with it?

I really love the artwork. We commissioned Gary Ronaldson with it, who has already worked with the likes of Misery Index and Napalm Death, and I told him more or less what elements I wanted on the cover. He came up with the central figure though, a Madonna with the face of a skull and draped in the blackened Chilean flag that became a symbol of the protests. I wanted to go with this kind of Grindcore look for the cover because the album is also the most extreme in our discography and often verges on that genre.

“Sacrificio”’s merciless nature is evident, and when in a deep state focus, even vivid. Criminal’s mixture of Death, Groove and Thrash Metal is taking a stronger form, delivering a versatile plethora that takes the effort several levels up. Would you say that “Sacrificio” made you sweat in order to perfect your ability to enhance this mentioned blending?

Well, thank you very much for your kind comments! But this was actually the easiest album to make in a long time. The difference was that, rather than writing and recording the riffs in front of a computer and putting a song together like that, our new drummer Danilo and I went into the rehearsal studio with just a handful of riffs, and the whole album was written there, literally sweating it out, with loud drums and amps, bouncing ideas off of each other. I think you can really feel that energy on the album, because our producer Seba Puente also managed to capture a very natural, dynamic sound that makes you feel like you're in the room with us if you listen to it with your eyes closed.

The album delivers an array of songs that are not just brutal, but also show signs of above the basic construct, with more or less there is a creation of several musical identities. How would you say that “Sacrificio” developed you as a songwriter, even though you have quite the experience?

I think what we did on the album is to go back to the roots in terms of the rhythmical, dare I say “groovy” riffs and beats, but also adding some elements that had not been present on previous Criminal albums, such as more dissonant riffs, spoken-word or fairly “clean” vocals, unusual song structures etc., so I'm really happy with the way it came out and yes, I can definitely say that I feel like I've written the best album I could.

Other than me doing the second guessing, in your viewpoint, what makes “Sacrificio” that special kind of record, which is part of a vast market of bands that have been employing the same subgenres of Metal music to their identity?

I don't know, but what I do know is that we're definitely not a “flavour of the month” kind of band. What we do is not the hip or cool thing to do, and that makes me think we're doing something right, because we chose our own path. “Sacrificio” is a very spontaneous album, almost nothing on it was planned, so you could say it came straight from the heart and gut and that is probably what makes it special.

How do you believe that the aggression of the music speaks on behalf of the aching hearts of the people and the corrupt nature of those who do the oppressing? What do you make of that cohesion between the lyrics and music?

To be honest, to me the music has always been slightly more important than the lyrics, but then again, I also think that it would be a shame to put lame lyrics to killer music, and that's why I choose to write about subjects that really matter and mean something. In this case, as a Chilean, it was impossible not to write about what was going on, even if only as a witness, but I think the aggression of the music is perfectly mirrored with the pictures of desolation the lyrics convey.

While working on “Sacrificio”, whether the songwriting process, or the recording, how would you say that it contributed to the chemistry within the band? I noticed that you a rather new member on board to man the skins for instant

The whole album was written by our new drummer Danilo and myself, so that made us very close in creative and artistic terms. The other guys have been in the band longer, but they had no problem accepting to be less involved in the songwriting process but just making their contributions on their respective instruments. But the chemistry in the band is great and we're all equally enthusiastic about this album.

The first track that captured my intention was actually one of the Spanish sung tunes, “Sistema Criminal”. No doubt that it has that catchy flavor, yet it also portrays a well-made mutation between the subgenres that you have been incorporating. The song’s heaviness is undeniable and the uneasy feeling is surely captured. What can you tell about this song’s creation and its impact on the record?

I think that's probably the most “Criminal” song on the album, meaning that it has the most elements of our early albums, the catchiness along with the heaviness and brutality. That's why it was probably one of the easiest to write, it just came completely naturally. I'm happy you like it.

 “Dark Horse” features that Southern American direction of a groovy kind of Death Metal, while also sharing a few Hardcore fragments for an additional kick. Here the riffs do the talking and less the catchy notes of the gang driven chorus. What do you make of this song?

It's probably one of the more different songs on the album. The Hardcore influence is undeniable, but at the same time it retains all of the Criminal trademarks. At the end of the day, there has been a Hardcore influence in Criminal since day one. In my eyes, there's always been a balance between thrash, death metal and Hardcore, and that's still the case – or maybe more than ever – on the new album.

It would be interesting to know which of the other tracks, that I didn’t mention, do you relate yourself with. I am sure that there are at least one or two that you wish for the readers to know more about. Please share.

Yeah, there's a couple of tracks that are special to me. One of them is “Theocrazy”, which is probably the most extreme song on the album, verging on grindcore. I love the main riff with its dissonance and aggression, but then it has a breakdown in the middle which gives it a great dynamic. Should be a fun track to play live. And then there's “Ego Killer”, which is special because it's different from the rest of the album. Slower, downtuned and quite dark, it also has a fantastic guitar solo. I probably should mention Sergio more actually, because he's done such a killer job putting melodic yet aggressive solos in these songs, which fit perfectly.

When you sit down, put on the headphones, and listen to “Sacrificio”, what does it make you feel inside? Where do you think that you are traveling to in your mind while listening?

Well, to be honest I feel transported to the rehearsal room where we wrote it. It brings me back to those moments of raw energy and creativity, when we were completely focused yet at the same time enjoying every minute of the process. I like to say that I had a great time recording this album. I felt free to do whatever the fuck I wanted.

Since 2021 is more or less a kind of goner for bands to perform, unless there is a chance that is being taken, what does 2022 hold for Criminal on the live scene?

I'm not really sure yet. I've been talking to a bunch of people, bands, agents and promoters, and I certainly hope that by summer 2022 we'll be out playing shows again, but the scenario is still one of uncertainty.

Anton, I wish to thank you for your time and effort on this interview. Thank you for opening my eyes once again with yet another strong Criminal album. All the best!

No, thank you for your support and for having paid attention to the album as I can tell you have! Take care and hopefully see you soon at a live show! Cheers!



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