Track-by-track: Earl Maneein walks us through SEVEN)SUNS' latest LP
Party Smasher Inc. via Youtube

Classical metal string quartet SEVEN)SUNS released their debut album, For Hearts Still Beating, on June 23 via The Dillinger Escape Plan’s label, Party Smasher Inc. Even though the record is largely instrumental, each song was carefully crafted and has deeper meanings going beyond what you hear. Writer and violinist Earl Maneein shares the inspirations and thoughts behind each of the tracks on the new album. 

Fratres (Ghost Mix) - The original work by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, was written in 1977, without fixed instrumentation. I took that instruction - “without fixed instrumentation” and went with it, and gave our version to the fantastic Israeli musician and composer, Raz Mesinai, to additionally rework and remix it. Raz skillfully took my descriptions of how I wanted to subvert and deconstruct Pärt’s original intention of the “brotherhood of man” and show musically how as much as we humans are brothers and sisters, we often fall far below the mark of that humanity. His work appears in two parts here, first as the “ghost mix”, setting up the album’s intention and mood, secondly at the end, as the “cassette mix”, framing the whole work and in a sense, the whole album.

Rikers: Songs of the Voiceless I. “Trivisia”- This is actually one larger piece composed of two movements, “Trivisia” and “Shunyata”. I wrote this piece in response to the time SEVEN)SUNS spent working with the Rangjung Dharma Prison Project, a Buddhist meditation workshop run by Lama Justin von Budjoss at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. We worked with inmates and corrections officers collectively exploring how meditation could be useful in such an environment. “Trivisia” means “The Three Poisons”, namely greed, attachment, and hatred - three universal human character flaws that could allow any of us to end up in such a place as Rikers Island. This movement is intended to be a musical picture of those character flaws.

Rikers: Songs of the Voiceless: II. “Shunyata”- “Shunyata” is also a Buddhist term, the idea that all phenomena are devoid of an immutable or determinate intrinsic nature. This idea applies to all phenomena in the known and unknown universe. Intellectually, this concept is relatively easy to grasp, but to fully realize this takes a lifetime because our ego and delusion make this full realization extremely difficult. The realization of shunyata is the goal of a Buddhist practitioner and the second movement is my attempt to chronicle my hope for myself, as well as all sentient beings, for a full realization of this concept.

43% Burnt - This is our version of The Dillinger Escape Plan song. I’ve been a fan of TDEP for a long time, and I knew I wanted to do a string quartet version of this song from the start of this project. [TDEP’s] Ben [Weinman] and Billy [Rymer] heard our version and came to one of our shows. From there, we ended up appearing on their final album, Dissociation, and becoming friends. Transcribing their music gave me even more respect for them because it enabled me to really get to know the song intimately.

In Full View - This was originally written for my now defunct metalcore violin band, Resolution15. The original lyrics were about the murder of Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964. In an interesting example of “fake news” before it was a thing, The New York Times published a report of the murder that conveyed a scene of shocking indifference from neighbors who failed to come to Genovese's aid. They said 37 or 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack and did not call the police. The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the “bystander effect” or "Genovese syndrome.” This report was later found to be misleading and “grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses.”

Quote Unquote (Travolta) - This is one of my favorite songs. I discovered Mr. Bungle through Mike Patton’s other band, Faith No More. Their Dadaist humor and surreal irreverence is something I really identify with. When our dear friend and former member Patti Kilroy decided to make an arrangement of this song, I was delighted. Patti’s skill at arranging for string quartet really shines through here, although it was Amanda’s idea to record the squeaky toy loudly and leave the extra squeak in the mix. She felt it would contribute to the “grinning middle finger” effect this song embodies.

Malice- A reworking of another Resolution15 song originally titled “Malus Olympia.” This version finds itself shorn of its original lyrics dealing with the hypocrisy of the Chinese government hosting the 2012 Olympics; something intended to showcase the pinnacle of human achievement while simultaneously engaging in gross human rights violations. I decided to re-title it into something more vague yet descriptive since I had changed this arrangement from the original significantly.

Heathens - I was pretty excited to tackle this [twenty one pilots song]. Inspired by a conversation I had with Ben Weinman regarding TDEP’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”, I wanted to take an unabashedly popular song and put it through various filters of the chamber music tradition as well as my own musical inclinations of punk, metal, and hardcore. Our version is the end result of that, for better or worse.

Yama - Originally based on a song I had written for Resolution15, the music is centered on this phrase: “You will die alone.” It was written with the works of 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir in mind. The overarching theme of his poetry is the seeking of the Absolute and that the ordinary grasping and ambitions of humans is useless in the face of death, or “Yama.”

Fratres (Cassette Mix) - This is the second part of our reworking of Arvo Pärt’s minimalist masterpiece, with Raz Mesinai’s incredible remixing. The voice samples on the piece are of a man named Chum Mey, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious political prison, S-21 or Tuol Sleng. He’s one of seven survivors out of 17,000 people who were imprisoned there. I incorporated his detailing and bearing witness to the unimaginable suffering and torture he endured to show a different aspect of “brotherhood.” This draw attentions to how we brothers and sisters should act towards one another and how we actually act. This is the only instance where I play distorted electric violin on the album and recruited my former bandmate Kenny Grohowski to create a maelstrom over the meditative, six bar original theme of contemplative stillness.

SEVEN)SUNS’ debut album, For the Hearts Still Beating, is out now. Stream the album over at New Noise and pick up a copy here.