HOUSE OF ATREUS “Wheels Of Fire” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Ixion was a king in ancient Thessaly who was infamous for his treachery and arrogance. He burned his father in law alive after inviting him to his home. This evil act caused Ixion to be shunned yet still Zeus, king of the Gods, took pity on him and brought him up to Olympus, a great honor. Ixion was not exactly the ideal guest: he tried to make love to Zeus’ wife, Hera. Zeus’ punishment for Ixion was terrible: he was chained to a wheel of molten steel and the wheel was condemned to spin eternally across the heavens, with no relief for the mad Ixion.

The Greeks were no great believers in light entertainment, that’s for sure, but their myths have been a huge influence on Western society for thousands of years. That influence extends into the world of heavy metal; the relationship between myth and metal is a logical one. In America, no band explores this connection better than Minnesota’s House of Atreus. The band is a hidden gem with the US metal scene, merging influences from many sources to come up with a sound as heavy as hell yet redolent of the ancient world.

The newest House of Atreus release is “From The Madness of Ixion”, which examines the tale of the mad king and his hideous punishment as well as other mythological themes. I had the chance to break bread with longtime vocalist Anxietous Nero, who was eager to expound upon the latest doings within the House of Atreus…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings to the House of Atreus! How about a brief recap of the band’s history for those encountering them for the first time?  

ANXIETOUS NERO: HoA started out of frustration with not finding other musicians that were down with the style I was aiming for at the time. I had written the first four demo songs (it was called Ashened then) and found some basic footing in recording my ideas. Later, those ideas evolved. After line up changes and personal issues over the last 8 years, the core group solidified. 

WC:  Watching “Jason and the Argonauts” when I was a small kid gave me a lifelong interest in Greek mythology. What was it that drew you to the subject? What came first, Metal or myth?

AN: Yes, this was a great flick. The first type of movie like this I encountered was “Clash of the Titans”, which I saw as a lad. Interesting question you ask, I’d say I was exposed to Mythology first. I was born (like a lot of people) into a Christian family. I probably had a more orthodox upbringing, but I was exposed to biblical myth and Christian anthropology at a pretty studious level early on. It gave way to learn more about philosophy and mythology, which are tools I appreciate when arguing against certain principals. I was introduced into Greek mythology through this process. There’s also ton of metal bands that use this kind of material, but a unique way of telling these stories isn’t done often enough in my opinion. It is, after all, a part of our history I think should continue to be canonized. Even if it’s riddled with occasional crappy imagery and bad acting. 

WC: On the new album, you focus on the character of Ixion. What was it about this guy that spoke to you? Do the songs stand alone? 

AN: I had the chance to spend a few months in Europe last year which did wonders for my personal growth. I had many experiences crammed into that time, visiting elemental sites and eyeing statues of Greco-Roman ilk in museums and galleries. Ixion’s story isn’t unlike many other myths, but highlighting that his misdeeds led to the creation of pivotal creatures and wars in this world of mythos represents how these tales are woven together. Without going into the fact that many of these Roman stories serve as life lessons, it's still notable to point out. Ixion's punishment could be construed as a lesson in humbling yourself to your host, or perhaps the importance of gift exchanges in familial joining. Such became from Ixion’s madness, but I moved on from that one epic into other territories, or I feel it would get stale quickly. For example, the track “Oath of the Horatii” is in tribute to the painting by Jacques Louis David, painted in the late 1700’s. You can see it at the Louvre in Paris, and it’s gigantic. The story behind it is also gigantic, which I’ll leave the reader to investigate. It’s abundant in patriotism and the honor of civic sacrifice. Something struck a chord in me with this work, thinking about how many nations come and gone have sacrificed their youth and treasures to exist, to create and define. The worldly lines are drawn and redrawn through war and conquest, the victors celebrating their nationality in kind. This painting shows three diligent sons, ready for battle to protect their country, the old father blessing them-knowing they could be killed yet not steering them away from their destiny. The weeping women in the painting are sisters and wives, some even mutually betrothed to the enemy. In the end, the score was 3-2, for the Horatii. There is such glory in this nationalistic depiction. Call the police. 

WC:  The sound on this album is more aggressive than “The Spear And The Ichor That Follows”. Was this the plan all along or did the songs just naturally progress that way? 

AN: We definitely went heavier on this album, and we were able to realize exactly what we envisioned for every song. I feel we’ve all caught up more to the more practiced musicians in the group, and I would hope the listener hears that growth. When we wrote the Spear album, we tried to showcase story and melody. For this album, we re-visited our earlier heavier material and it’s admittedly more engaging. Moving forward, we will maintain this mix between aggressiveness and melodic breaks. 

WC:  You guys are absolute riff fiends! Is the songwriting pretty spontaneous or are things very strictly planned out? 

NERO: Thank you. This album was slightly more traditionally written. Thumos had complete creativity of the drums as it should be- and I didn’t waste time poking at programmed drums; all opting for light suggestions here and there. Wrath and I had full reign over the music, without any suggestive complications from outside. We wrote the riffs, refined them, and then I composed the order. After the structures were solid and we were proud, Wrath took to task with leads, added changes where they needed to be, and solos. I handled the lyrics, bass and so forth. All in all, we learned a great deal in the last several years. Interitus is at his zenith with the guitar as well, so moving forward with him will be quite interesting. 

WC: Who are some of the musical influences of the band? I can hear Bolt Thrower, Arghoslent and old Greek black metal in your approach.

AN:: There’s a lot of influences here. Armoured Angel, Sacriphyx and Iron Maiden also lent influence. There’s a riff in “Concubines...” that makes me wish Bruce would parachute down from his plane and take over the mic. We will always take influence from the bands we enjoy, but we have never sought out to be a duplicate of any kind. Selfishly, I don’t mind our band being compared to quality stuff, and we will always defend our tastes. Yet, we DO have a sound and message of our own.

WC: Are there any musical influences that are not so obvious in HOA’s music?

AN: I think you can hear more classical influences in Wrath’s solo’s on this record. He’s also delved deeper into more traditional heavy metal and it’s added an element of nostalgia. Thumos has been practicing jazz rudiments and classic rock approaches in tandem with speedier foot work, and I truly believe he’s becoming a monster. As for me, I’ve spent time working lyrically, reading classic literature and looking at pre-modern art to keep what I find unique about the content front and center. At this point, I’ve been doing vocals for nearly 20 years, and the outstanding thing I can see that separates bullshit artists like death metal singers is what is being stated, which in itself is endlessly ironic without question. 

WC:  Is there any possibility of using unusual instruments like authentic Greek/Roman instruments or maybe adding symphonic touches to the music? 

AN: If I can be serious and humiliate myself for a moment, yes. The next full length is a planned rewrite of Aeschylus’ Oresteia; all three works in 9 songs. Thumos has plans to use some Greek instruments, and we will incorporate more traditional pentatonic scales. It’s going to be a major undertaking, and could break us up before it became a thing. Before this, we will probably write another EP. Additionally, I might sit down with a script writer and turn our Oresteia into an actual performance piece one day. And before the metal-opera insults go flying, fuck you in advance. That shit would rip, and I personally enjoy the idea of glorifying traditional art as much as possible in a world so frantically trying to destroy itself. 

WC:    House of Atreus is a pretty unique band in the American metal scene. What are some of the strengths and drawbacks to having such an individual style? 

AN: I don’t think there’s much of a drawback being different, and since we do have a unique thing going it’s served us well over the years. Some might say we’re limited because of what we’re doing, but we’ve played with really extreme bands and some not so extreme bands and it's just fine. It also makes little difference to us who we play with, (unless it's regurgitated trash) but that’s more of a thing limited by consumers, not our musical efforts.

WC: Are there lessons for modern society in the ancient tragedies you present? Any links to current events?

AN: HoA stays out of the modern political arena, we’re musicians and not politicians. There’s been major changes in society-you can see them clear as day. Truly, anything in my lyrics you could construe as modern issues is coincidental in that history repeats itself. Music is our top priority and passion and we certainly have employed zero concern for approval to what is and what is not appropriate for metal, nor do any of us in this band hold uniform political beliefs. That’s just reality, and it is everyone’s reality.  

WC: Does the band get the chance to play live much?

AN:: We play live pretty frequently, depending on the opinion of who’s asking. We’ve never been much for stretching ourselves beyond our means, so if the right event pops up or a friend invites us to have a little down time from our busy lives and play, we usually make it happen. I think going forward we will be playing more than we have in recent years, but we’ll see.

WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people in history who would it be?

AN: Marcus Aurelius, Peter Paul Rubens and Dante Alighieri

WC: Is there any “Spinal Tap” instances you can share?

AN: We played this show not too long ago in Milwaukee. We all felt like shit from drinking the night before, and we were a bit bummed about having to play sans a guitar player. Well, we went across the street from the venue to grab a beer and prep, I using mine to wash down an antacid. About 15 minutes later I felt like my face was melting and all I wanted to do was fall asleep. Turns out, I accidentally took my Ambien, which I normally knock myself out with HALF a pill. On stage, I remember looking back at Thumos and seeing a blur and briefly forgetting what the fuck I was doing there. By the time our set was about finished, I was leaning on the mic stand and I could feel my lips mouthing something like “meer meer meer.” When we finished up I went immediately to the bar and started pounding vodka/energy drinks. We all finished the night in falsetto to Maiden and Helloween from the jukebox. Surprisingly, I didn’t say anything insulting or get into a fight, and my pants were stain free the next morning.

WC:Any last words to the faithful? 

AN: I’d like to extend a public thanks to Konstantyn Kopacz of Warhead Art, Sang Ho Moon, Dan Fried, and Jeremy for their art contributions. Thanks to Patrick and Iron Bonehead, Dan Klein of Iron Hand Audio and Damien Herring of Subterranean Watchtower Studios, and Brendan MP Heard for his views on Traditional Western Art. 

Thank you to our friends and fans around the world, especially in Italy and Belgium. We will be seeing you!