ReGen peers into visions of dystopia and the end of the world with London industrial/metal act Binary Order.
An InterView with Benjamin Blank of Binary Order
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Benjamin Blank has been operating under the moniker of Binary Order for six years now, releasing a new album every year to finally culminate in Messages From the Deep. Completed entirely by Blank, the record presents the artist’s shift toward a more refined production sensibility, relegating his past output to the status of demos or works-in-progress, while also immersing the listener in Blank’s dystopian flights of industrial/metal fancy. His music is sure to evoke memories of the early Birmingham pioneers like Godflesh and Pitch Shifter, but coupled with a cinematic scope that draws heavily from his love of sci-fi/cyberpunk films like Blade Runner, Dredd, AKIRA, and more. Just prior to the album’s release, ReGen had the chance to catch up with Benjamin Blank and discuss his creative evolution, his outlook on the end of the world, his love of nü-metal, and the expanding technologies and avenues to experience new music.
You have a new album, Messages From the Deep, whose themes address issues in modern society, our ignorance of the warning signs, and the fear that we’re too far gone to affect any change. While this might seem a flippant question, how much do these themes reflect your own personal worldview?
Blank: Completely. While the album may be at times a dramatic look at the world around us, it’s not a concept album by any measure.
Is there ever room for hope that if people finally speak loud enough that some action can be taken?
Blank: I don’t believe there is at all. I think our attraction to conflict and innate selfishness will always condemn us to reach the same endgame. There’s also the debate of what action is to be taken on what issues? We all face problems, but we are more divided as a society on what those issues are than I’ve ever known of.
The political divide we’re seeing and rise of extremism on both sides is absolutely deafening right now, and very isolating. Unfortunately, we’re fighting over what to fix rather than how to fix, and a lot of what I express on the album is a reaction to that in of itself.
You’ve remarked that the music and themes are heavily inspired by cyberpunk and sci-fi (Blade Runner, Dredd, AKIRA, Deus Ex, etc.), all of which were commentaries on a state of corporatism and technological encroachment on man’s environment – things that have arguably already come to pass (perhaps in a manner less sexy than we imagined, but not far off). What are your thoughts on how artists are referring to older titles to address the status quo?
On the other hand, the title – Messages From the Deep – seems to evoke a Lovecraftian motif, referring to ancient entities from the subterranean and subaquatic depths resurfacing to reclaim the Earth. Was this the intent?
Blank: No, actually it’s a reference to DUNE (2021). The film opens with a foreign tongue saying, ‘Dreams are messages from the deep.’ When I was in the early stages of writing this album, I was starting to have horrific nightmares… and I still am. These nightmares would just haunt me throughout the day.
In the film/book of DUNE, there are themes of premonition, destiny, foreboding dread, and a fear of it all wrapped up in dreams and it really spoke to me with what I was experiencing. Just seeing these horrific images and being put in these incredibly traumatic situations by my own mind and trying to make sense of it is a large part of what this album is about.
While those themes in classic sci-fi/horror (or Weird Fiction as it’s often called) address dystopia, it seems to be of a different nature than the cybernetic and technological aspects in the titles previously mentioned. In your mind, how do you reconcile these two different approaches to our ultimate end?
Blank: That’s the interesting part for me, because the idea of writing about my dreams came first and the whole political/dystopian angle really came from trying to delve deeper into why I’m in the state that is causing the nightmares in the first place. So, for me, it’s really a snake eating its own tail in terms of how I’m reacting versus what I’m experiencing.
You started Binary Order in 2008, and Messages From the Deep marks your sixth album with the project; as you look back on your artistic evolution, to what extent has Binary Order remained true to your original conceptions, and in what ways has it changed?
Blank: I had always loved the synth/electronic elements of metal songs, for examples albums like Height of Callousness by Spineshank or Machine by Static-X were huge for me when I was first taking an interest in popular music. However, I never really found a consistent metal band that pushed the electronics hard enough, or a more synth-led band that had really intense metal elements. So, I created Binary Order to be just that. It might sound a bit blunt to say now, but I was essentially trying to make Nine Inch Nails, but heavier when I first started. (Laughter)
Binary Order is essentially a way for me to express myself musically, emotionally, and creatively. My musical interests have grown a lot since 2008, but I haven’t necessarily abandoned the music or styles of music I was into in then either. So, as my interests continue to grow, so will the sound of Binary Order. Maybe one day, I’ll finally write that vaporwave album I keep thinking about.
Your previous five albums were until recently available as name-your-price items on Bandcamp. As well, I’ve noticed that they are albums; no EPs or standalone singles, which in the digital ADHD age of Tik-Tok and social media… what are your thoughts on the album format, both as it pertains to Binary Order and in terms of the way people consume and experience music today?
Why did you remove them?
Blank: As I’d explained in my posts when I removed them, it’s because I want Messages From the Deep to be fully representative of what the sound aesthetic and quality of Binary Order is going forward. Eventually, they will return at some point, as my intention was always to rerecord them, but the current state they’re in you can consider demo versions of what they will eventually be. They will still be available in a playlist on YouTube for now.
At the same time, vinyl and cassettes have come back, and while we’re still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, bands are trying to tour and play live again, while livestreams are becoming part of the paradigm. What are your thoughts on this?
What should we have learned from the pandemic that we (audiences, musicians, labels, promoters, the ‘industry-at-large’) should be applying?
What do you see as the next necessary step in the development of technologies geared toward the experience of music?
Blank: I’m hoping for something like how they have sex in Demolition Man. We’ll wear some kind of helmet device and have music zapped into our brains directly while Sandra Bullock sits in front of you.
The album came out on November 29. What else can we look forward to from Binary Order that you can tell us about?
Blank: I released the album’s second single, ‘Parasite,’ on the 15th of November. Ultimately, I’m super excited to hear how people react to the album. I love discussing music and any reaction to what I put out – be it negative or positive – is a great chance to learn how the art I’m creating is resonating with people. If I didn’t care about that, there’d be no reason to release my music to the public at all.
Will Binary Order be performing live in the foreseeable future? What would a Binary Order live show entail – a live band, visual presentation, etc.?
Blank: No live shows planned, unfortunately, but it’s something I would love to do. Vocally, I’d written the album with nothing that I can’t do live, aside from a few fry/clean vocal overlaps in places. So, it’s something I’ve kept in the back of my mind. If it ever happened, I’d hope it either look like or be similar to what people consider the end of the world to be like, so only small aspirations for now.
Photography provided courtesy of Binary Order