Rings of Saturn’s combination of Sumerian cuneiform album titles, up-tempo technical riffs and lyrics largely concerned with galactic warlords and DNA harvesting have cemented the band’s fame in the self-created genre of aliencore. But although the band happily have their niche, they’re as keen as ever to prove themselves. Indeed, as drummer Aaron Stechauner tells it, that unquenchable desire for the different was what lay at the very heart of the group’s upcoming fourth studio album, Ultu Ulla.
“Right now, in the world we live in, the music scene – especially the metal scene – is so saturated with music. You have to stick out; you have to make something different,” Stechauner says. “It’s your art and your craft, so sometimes it’s tough to do that because you want to do whatever you can to express yourself, but you have to do both things at once; you have to express yourself so you can be happy with your product, but you have to keep in mind it is a business.”
Today Stechauner is at home, practising in preparation for The Summer Slaughter 2017 tour, a series of shows that will see the band hit up venues across the States. He joined the band full-time after the release of the headbangers’ last album, Lugal Ki En and has been busy learning the demanding repertoire since.
“With what we play, there’s a lot more upkeep. I can’t focus as much on performance and stage presence as I could if I were in a different band and it didn’t require so much energy. It’s fun for sure, but it’s definitely taxing.”
An often-criticised aspect of Stechauner’s performance is the use of bass drum triggers. Within the metal world, triggers are a contentious subject. A touch-sensitive pad is placed on the bass drum which triggers a virtual drum sound with each strike. Purists consider this a form of cheating – however Stechauner believes people have a fundamental misunderstanding of this technology.
“If you’re a sloppy drummer and you get your kit mic’d up, nobody’s going to be able to tell if you’re playing sloppy because the natural rumble a kick drum produces isn’t going to pick up all those subtleties. But if you have the trigger and you’re not playing consistent note values on the kit, people are going to hear that. The worse you are, the more of your errors the triggers showcase.”
It’s not just triggers that draw such criticism: the band also get poked at for using synth backing tracks, and a number of years ago false rumours swirled that they deployed heavy performance trickery. When asked why he thinks there’s a hyper focus on authenticity in metal that is not always seen in other genres, Stechauner explains it’s probably due to the diehard nature of metal’s fanbase, not to mention their enviable technical knowhow.
“It is important for people to be playing instruments live. If anything, it’s kind of a compliment when people tell us that we’re faking it because it means we sound as perfect as we do on the recording,” he says. “I think metal is more of a unique genre than everything else. Most people who listen to metal are also musicians themselves. You go to a metal concert and the majority of the crowd are probably in bands already.”
Alongside Rings of Saturn and his other musical projects, Stechauner runs a Youtube channel showcasing some of his live performances and giving him a chance to talk to fans. For Stechauner, it’s a way to expand his name beyond Rings of Saturn and set himself apart from the horde of other professional drummers in the industry.
“There are tonnes of bands and millions of Instagram accounts of guitarists and drummers. You have to have your own thing and keep pushing that when you stand up next to everybody else. For example, I’m in Rings of Saturn, but say I didn’t make my online presence known and nobody knew who I was. I go on these tours and I’m on these records, but that doesn’t mean people know me. The drum endorsements I have, I probably wouldn’t have had without my online content,” he says.
“But on top of that, I don’t want to just be known as the Rings of Saturn drummer, or some other band’s drummer. I want to push myself on the side. I want to be my own artist.”
Rings Of Saturn is available Friday July 28 via Nuclear Blast.