Being from one of the most exotic locales on earth proves to be a helpful background for a drummer interested in exploring the cross-sections of world music styles—even one with a heavy-music heart.
World-music metal? Sure, why not? The music of French progressive metal band Mobius has a lot going on—in addition to the chugga-chug riffs in the djent-style heavy passages, there are odd-time excursions, atmospheric synths, and epic vocal displays from female singer Heli Andrea. But there’s also the significant presence of a Middle Eastern flavor throughout their new record, Kala (the Sanskrit word for “time”).
The album is also a showcase for drummer Adrien Brunet, who brings a developed polyrhythmic vocabulary and good ol’- fashioned metal chops to Mobius’s eclectic sound stew.
On “Abhinivesha,” Brunet throws in some killer Meshuggah-esque kick patterns before things give way to tabla-sounding percussion and a rocking konnakol/drums section. Big tom flurries end the song before you’ve had a chance to process all that you’ve heard.
Brunet has done his homework, and it’s his unique background and attention to detail that make Mobius stand out in a sea of copycat metal groups.
MD: How did all the ethnic sounds enter into the music your band makes?
Adrien: I was born in Reunion Island, a French island next to Madagascar. The important thing when you grow up as musicians in a tropical island in the Indian Ocean is the cultural background. Metal and rock are very underground styles in this kind of place, but for those people who want more exotic and ethnic stuff, it’s paradise. You can find a lot of influences in our culture, especially that of China, India, Africa, and Europe. So you have a lot of jazz, reggae, ethnic music, as well as traditional music like zouk, maloya, and sega. Unconsciously I think it inspires us in our creations.
MD: What were you listening to as you grew up?
Adrien: One day, Guillaume Deveaux, my buddy who plays keyboards in Mobius, came home with some Nightwish and Dream Theater DVDs, and that was the beginning of a long journey with progressive styles and metal prog. The drummers who inspired me are Mike Portnoy, Gavin Harrison, Dennis Chambers, Jojo Mayer, Matt Garstka, and Benny Greb. They all have the perfect balance between technique and musicality and their own styles.
MD: Are odd times a natural thing for the musicians in Mobius? Do you practice them?
Adrien: Odd times are a standard in prog music. I listened to a lot of progressive music in my life—jazz fusion, rock prog, metal prog—and it feels natural for me to incorporate odd times into our music. And if you add in the fact that we love djent, Meshuggah, and ethnic music with a lot of polyrhythms, you can be sure that’s something we want to share with people. I have no specific routine for practicing odd times, but I place a lot of importance on visualizing and writing things. It helps me to work on these concepts. I think that covering Dream Theater songs in the past helped me familiarize myself with odd times as well.
For polyrhythms, it’s more a work of coordination and independence. I’ll isolate the hands or feet and work on that with the metronome, and then add limbs one by one. For example, I’ll work on kick pattern first, and then add a ride lead. When you’re comfortable with those, you combine everything and then groove on it.
MD: What exercises do you use for working on hand speed and foot technique?
Adrien: I’m not a big technician; I focus on dynamics control more than speed. But I take a pattern, write it out, and, again, work on it with a metronome. I also work on paradiddles, singles and doubles, double paradiddles, etc.
For foot technique, my approach is more to focus on different rhythmic flows. For example, with my metronome on 90 bpm, my hands do a simple beat and my feet do different things underneath, like quarter notes, 8th notes, triplets, 16th notes, quintuplets, sextuplets, etc. When I’m comfortable and I can groove with that, I increase tempo in 5 bpm increments.
MD: What about incorporating the ethnic and Middle Eastern flavors into your drumming? There’s konnakol and all kinds of stuff.
Adrien: I’m a big fan of world music or ethnic jazz music like Hadouk Trio, Tigran Hamasyan, or the different projects of Trilok Gurtu. I also like the work of Danny Carey in Tool and Sean Reinert in Cynic, with toms and jazzy touches, and it inspires me to create sort of tribal rhythms.
We wanted to compose an album with big Indian influences, but we extended our concepts and sounds to the entire Middle East. So you can find sitar, duduk, or Mongolian voice in our songs. For the konnakol part in “Abhinivesha,” I took the accents of the principal pattern and added specific syllables in 16th notes for Heli [to sing]. Then with the band, you have the pattern on snare with guitar, my kick beat on quarter notes with bass, and the synth does half notes.