Anthony Kaoteon of DEATH TRIBE, KAOTEON: "Being Different Doesn't Mean Being an A**hole"
Anthony Kaoteon's path to becoming a heavy metal jack of all trades has not been without struggle, strife or heartbreak.
Born in civil war era Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, Kaoteon has seen and survived his share of ugliness. A self-described 'man with no home,' Kaoteon crunches the 9-5 (and longer) in order to keep his love and dreams of releasing punishing, yet eclectic heavy metal alive. And he's doing just that, and then some.
As Metal Injection broke in early November, his namesake blackened death metal outfit Kaoteon will release their new album this January (with Linus Klausenitzer from Obscura and Adrian Erlandsson from At The Gates!!!), while his diverse solo project Death Tribe released its debut studio album earlier this year. And he's already deep into a followup.
Speaking from his current place of occupation in the Netherlands, Kaoteon speaks with Metal Injection for a deep dive into his life growing up in war-torn Lebanon, his discovery of heavy metal, the trials and tribulations of his restricted travel life, the pain and (lack of) pleasure behind Death Tribe's new album and much more. Strap In!
On Growing Up in Civil-War Era Beirut
Basically, people my age grew up in bomb shelters if you were living in the city. So, yeah, I was born in the midst of it. And I used to wear like bulletproof jackets because, luckily, I had access to them. We used to run to the bomb shelter every other day. Many, many different sides were bombing us and you'd never know what to expect the next day. Now, having said that, I was too young to actually realize what was happening, but it definitely had a big impact on my personality, on the people around me. When I grew up and I understood more like, okay, this guy who used to sleep on that bed, we stopped seeing him because he's dead, or the parents and the relatives that lost a limb or the buildings that were on fire, you come to realize that. So the war ended in 1990, but it never really ended because the memories and the experiences still live through us.
On Discovering Heavy Music and Accessibility of Metal in Lebanon
Lebanon has a history of being one of the most, let's say, open cultures in that region where people were always tying to be on the next trendy thing. You could have a lot of things available, but not the official releases. So the internet was there. I remember in 1996 I had access to the internet, which was still early for a lot of developed countries. We had tapes being circulated. We had these kind of things, but metal was always frowned upon. So we would have access, but it was always in the underground.
I had my uncle who used to listen to metal music and he introduced me to bands that were too extreme for me. In 1994, if I remember correctly, I had the Caracass release, Napalm Death, I had Metallica, Slayer. I had access to a lot of tapes. But then you start picking up and the journey is I think, like most of the people who start with softer music, it's like an addiction. You start adding the doses of having faster music and louder music. And then you end up listening to either thrash, death or black metal. It depends on what fits your mood. But yeah, I had access, limited access.
Whenever you wanted an official release you would be like super lucky if you knew someone who could smuggle it in the country. You put it in your dirty underwear or something like that so that it passes the customs. Because just like the early days when rock music was frowned upon in the States or in other areas of the world, metal music was and still is frowned upon, especially if it has anything to do with religion. Religion still plays a huge role in that region. So you cannot really diss it or go against it or criticize it, not to mention being anti-religion or anything of that kind.
On Pressures of Performing Metal in Lebanon
It (metal) was always a scapegoat. So whenever there is a political problem, to change the diversion of attention, they would go and block concerts, go and stop people on the street wearing metal t-shirts, talk about Satanism and connect metal with Satanism. However, in between you would have access and access to concerts and you can voice your opinion out loud.
We had this show once in 2003, it was stopped. We had civilians with rifles going inside, which were detectives. We were put in the back of station cars and we were sent to the police station. We were detained for three days with investigations that we were devil worshiping and stuff of that kind. Now, having said that, does that happen to every single show? No. Were they stopping every single metal head? No. There were instances that happened during political times where they used the metal scene to make it seem as if the government is doing their work and stopping corruption because they could. They say Satanism and people would open their eyes and they could link it to any kind of drugs, corruption, blah, blah, blah blah. Now, having said that, I'm here and I'm talking to you. So it's not like they took us, we were condemned for heresy and I'm still rotting in jail. It's not the case. So it's not black and white. It's fucked up, but it's not black and white.
On Leaving Lebanon in 2012
It's a mix of personal, music, freedom of expression, because my kind of expression is not allowed in the country. If I want to narrow it down, I would say Lebanon is too small. So if you have dreams the ceiling is too low and you cannot really go. You are trying to put all the effort, but there is no support. For example, if you want to form a band and you want to attract talent or tour, there is no such thing as a metal scene. It's very centralized. Everybody knows everyone. The neighboring countries are more conservative when it comes to this kind of music. If you want to go and tour around there, it's almost non-existing. Today you have Dubai, which is more open and have a lot of shows. And I know the guys doing it there are doing an amazing job. But back in the day when I'm talking about 90s and early 2000s, you barely heard of shows and anyway, you didn't have the financial support to fly to Dubai.
The first time I traveled out of my country I was in college. You don't have the support system, neither musically nor professionally. You don't have a lot of big companies that can help your goals or that you can travel with few sponsors because a person with a Lebanese passport, they need a visa going anywhere. If you are not very dedicated in order to be attractive to a company so that they hire you with the Lebanese experience and the Lebanese degree so that you can go outside Lebanon and start exploring the world, then you are stuck in Lebanon. Basically, you cannot do that. You don't have a choice.
This is what I decided since I was like in my first year of college. I wasn't studying really well, I wasn't focusing. But then I was like, OK, this is my only way out. And I need to fucking focus. I need to prove myself and I need to show that, okay, if I say that I could do things musically or not musically, this is my next goal. I should achieve that so that I can have my way out. And this is what I did. I started studying. I took my college degree. I started working on my master's degree. I worked for day and night in jobs trying to prove myself. Then I got hired by a shipping company and then I got hired by a multinational beverage company. And then I worked there for six years from being a sales guy on the truck until I reached managerial levels and then I was headhunted to a company in Dubai where I worked for seven years. And then I got here to the Netherlands with work. It was never a choice of music. It's not like I wish to be in Europe so that I can work on my music and tour and then that's a choice given to me. It's a choice I earned. If I don't do well at work, I lose my residency and I go back to my country. So this is the reality.
On Forming Death Tribe
It was to stretch my musical experimentation, but at the same time, try to put together an album with the whole idea of the music industry going into singles. When you're listening on Spotify, let's say you're jumping from one band to the other. And I was like, okay, I've always been listening to multiple genres and I have access to these kind of talents from the region whether we're talking about vocalists or Linus or Mattias on the album who are as well versatile and they have very stretched backgrounds. So I decided to do like a metal tape, but done all by myself and the friends available at hand.
On the Diverse Influences on Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment
I would say I was definitely influenced by a lot of metal genres throughout the years. And this is more like an order of appreciation to all the different sounds that metal could bring without sounding too cliche. Still, the ability of putting a heavy metal song and yes, it is traditional but still has its own power, its own distinctive sound, at this time and age is something that I always thought is it still possible? Is it possible to put a traditional heavy metal song out there without copying another band? And I think that I was able to do that without making it seem like I'm just copying what has been done in the past just as a song.
For example, if I think of "Face the Facts", I'm paying tribute to great guitar legends like Dimebag and the riff is a very Pantera kind of riff. And then "Death Blues" is more of a mix between Motorhead in the riffage, but in the singing you'd think a Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. And then you go to songs like "Beyond Pain and Pleasure", which is like one of the songs that is dear to my heart. But at the end of the day it's a mix between Morbid Angel kind of death metal and still having this avant-garde black metal into it. So if I say it is my style, yes, because I listen to everything. I even listen to genres outside the metal world. But yeah, I didn't go that extreme into putting like a Tom Waits kind of track inside the album. I tried to make it as diverse as possible.
On Harnessing Pain and Emotion in Songwriting
It's more in the lyrics. Talking about the experience of writing the music itself, when you write metal music you're writing songs that express a certain type of anger, a certain type of emotion that is more towards the dark side. And having the background of living in the near east or moving from one country to the other was more expressed in this album because I felt like I've been living without an actual home for so long and I've been detached from every kind, as if I don't have the right to feel any belonging to any race, home or land.
You think when you are actually at your home country and you're trying to move out that you're just moving out and then you will find a better destination, but then you move out to the world and you discover that the world is not very welcome of you or where you come from, because they have already their own embedded condition. They are already conditioned into putting you in a frame, in a box, and you have a different kind of struggle.
So at one point you are struggling because of the fact that you are in a corrupt society or in a war zone or, let's say are someone who has been discriminated. And then you move to a better country, supposedly. However, you are not given the same choices as a citizen of the country, but you will always be feeling like you are left out. So this is where Beyond Pain and Pleasure came from. I don't feel the pain anymore, but I'm not feeling the pleasure. I'm just in a state of, let's say, a wonder or in a Zen mode maybe. I don't know exactly what it is, but it's a place where you just do what you do best and don't have really much expectations from the world.
On His Current State of Place
This is the debate, I don't have home. I don't have the luxury of calling any place home. I'm in the Netherlands, in Utrecht. But, yeah, what is home? Earth is too small for borders. So for me it's always a question mark on why do we really need those borders to separate people? We all bleed the same kind of blood. We all have the same kind of suffering. We all have the same basic needs. We're all striving for the best to live together in harmony, to have compassion, to fix the world. At the end of the day, this is how metal started, a evolution into fixing the wrong in the world.
On Restricted Touring/Dependence on Work
I do music because of the passion of music, knowing that I am cursed by the fact that I cannot really make music for a living. If I want to tour, how can I tour? I can tour on my annual leave. I can tour on weekends. I can make a tailor made tour, let's say. But which booking agency will accept an artist that cannot tour day in and day out or for at least 45, 60 days? Let's say I have enough money to have a buy-in with a big band. A buy would cost any band huge amounts of money and then you need to tour with them on the full tour. Any tour is at least 30 to 45 days. How many annual leaves do you have at work? You cannot even cover that. So it has a lot of falls to be employed.
From the good side, I would say that having a stable job allowed me to be able to compose music the way I want and work with artists the way I want, because at the end of the day I am facing a reality. I'm not living the rockstar dream and having ambitions that I will never achieve or might achieve. But at the same time I am dependent on it.
On His Creative Output and New Material
I don't know what it is, but riffs keeps flowing to me. I really don't sit down and say I want to compose a song and then I come back to it. Because I don't have connections, I don't tour. I don't meet other musicians a lot. The way I compose is basically sit down after a long week of work and I hold my guitar and the ideas come to me. It's some sort of meditation. On some weekends I have full tracks coming to me. I kid you not, the new album of Kaeoton, I did not really compose the songs as in gluing riffs together or thinking I should change this or that. And I think it's the best work I've done so far. And I just put it down like in one go. Every single song, one go.
This is an advantage as well of not touring, because when you're touring and playing the same thing, I believe that you fall into the trap of not thinking about the music to be able to play them 300 days a year, the same songs and doing the same show. It becomes so mechanical, it becomes like a desk job at the end of the day. I don't envy huge bands that have one hit that they need to play every single night for 30 years. I'm sure they hate that song that we love as fans because we don't see it except once every two years when we go and see them live. But they are playing it every single night. But for me, when I go back to my songs and I have a live show, let's say once every six months, sometimes I have to learn back my songs. That's the reality of the matter. Because I go back to them and I only played them to record them, whenever we have a show I would learn them again and we would rehearse. And then you would stop playing them for a couple of months and then you have another show. So this allows me to always change in sound and evolve. Yes, I don't have 10 albums out yet, but every time I feel that we are evolving one step further in sound and in making our own distinctive signature and the sound that we have is becoming more and more complete without actually being stuck in one same area or sound.
On The Catharsis of Heavy Metal
It definitely is a release. The music itself, whether we like to admit it or not as metal musicians is, yes, loud, aggressive, but it releases a steam. It's like a therapy. It takes you to a different state of mind. I'm not an introvert, but whenever you go to a concert you find a lot of people that have problems in the social world, connecting with people and being open and everything. And then you go to the metal concert and you see them very happy and joking around, expressing themselves and shouting and going out loud. And then the next day they are walking in the mall and they're not talking to anyone. They're looking down and they're walking straight and they're not being sociable. So metal, I think, is an outlet for a lot of people out there that need to express it, need to shout, because there is something that is really pissing them off. Now, personally, I do play metal and I play other types of music, but whenever I play metal I definitely feel like I'm releasing some kind of energy that I need to get out so that I can go through the days.
On Making Music with a Message
We're trying to tell the world that, in my situation, I'm dying to put the message out there about the regions that people have tagged in a certain way. Maybe bring some light into the Western world, or into anyone's mind that are already conditioned and thinks that the near east is terrorism, the near east is conservative, the near east is blah, blah, blah. Whereas we are all fighting the same kind of fights. We all like the same kind of things, we just speak different tongues. We look different and the media is separating us from one another and not allowing us have these relationships that could really unite us. And together we are stronger.
What I'm trying to say is we are conditioned and we are blinded by fear and we are blinded by politics. We are blinded by leaders who are just trying to keep us ignorant on the reality of the world. And that really everything that is happening is manmade. And so if everything that is happening in the world, whether it is political or whether it is these wars that are happening, someone is funding them. And we never ask questions. We never ask how did these groups have access to these kind of weapons of mass destruction? Where did they have their training? How did they develop? For me, it's insane how we think that we are so educated and we are so open minded and we are better than others. Whereas we don't have any kind of right because you never choose where you are born and your identity doesn't make you better than others.
It's more about why is the world so messed up? And why do we keep on throwing boarders and separating people and making things so complicated when it's so easy?
On Metalheads Sparking Change
Maybe metalheads could do something different, because metalheads have been frowned upon in Western societies or Asian societies or anywhere because they are different. So if metalheads start thinking about that and not really have, inside the metal scenes, separation and racism and looking at people differently, then we could spark change. Metalheads are humans at the end of the day. But metal is just a job of music, so we could influence change if we understand that being different doesn't mean being an asshole.