From the agricultural swamplands of Hamilton, New Zealand, Disjecta Membra was formed in December of 1993 by Michel Rowland, in the garage of friend and neighbour, Dave Jones. Between April ’94 and March ’95, Michel (vocals, guitars, misc) and Dave (bass, keys, misc) recorded Disjecta Membra’s earliest demos.
Encouraged by hearing themselves on local student radio, a live trio was formed with the addition of Paul Kennedy on second guitar and keys, with bassist Ben Cauchi stepping into Jones’ shoes from July 1995. Unable to find a drummer, the plot was resolved with the introduction of a Kawai R-50 drum-machine, dubbed Deus ex Machina. Cutting teeth on Bauhaus, Banshees, Joy Division and Cure covers alongside staple originals, between ’95 and ’96 the band steadily built up a live following in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
Ben and Michel formed the core of Disjecta Membra-ship during this period and co-wrote many of the band’s best-loved songs together, as other bandmates came and went. Kennedy left to pursue a fruitful career in music industry services, replaced briefly by Scott Barnett, before Tamlyn Martinovich settled into the role of keyboardist in mid ’96. Receiving a Doctorate in Rhythm, an upgraded Deus ex Machina also took on extra synth and sequencing duties.
With producer Dave Lowndes, Disjecta Membra self-released the ‘Theta Sessions’ demo EP in 1996, followed by the album ‘Achromaticia’ on Australia’s Heartland Records in 1997. Promo tracks from the album included the single version of ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’, ‘Skin Trade’ and the Deus ex Machina remix of ‘Cathedral’, appearing on various compilations issued by Heartland and their UK partners Nightbreed Recordings between ’97 and ‘98. High rotation from specialist club DJs and radio shows secured the album’s international fanbase, and Disjecta Membra’s long-standing reputation as New Zealand’s frontrunners in the ‘gothic rock’ genre.
“Disjecta Membra may convince cynics that goth has indeed risen again” – The Lamia’s Song: Dark Music (Australia)
“Demonstrating by far the most originality on this album (V/A: ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’) is Disjecta Membra with Cauldron of Cerridwen.” – Joanne Owen, BRV Magazine (UK)
“Achromaticia” is a true masterpiece of the genre.” – Mandy Von Vixx, Gothic World (Italy)
“Cauldron of Cerridwen’ is undeniably one of the finest tunes nineties gothic rock has to offer. All hail Disjecta Membra!” – Thomas Thyssen, Gothic Magazine (Germany)
“The album is replete with those theatrical, ethereal, and melancholic moments that define evocative and enrapturing gothic rock… ‘Achromaticia’ is one of those albums often spoken of in hushed whispers (“Yeah, but have you heard…”). And it’s as majestic and moving today as it ever was.” – Craig Hayes, Six Noises (New Zealand)
“It’s an accomplished debut, at times showing the influence of Bauhaus and The Banshees… My favourite track is Danse Macabre with its clattering drums, mesmerising bass and Bowie-like vocals, which cry out “Buggery in the back room!”. There are many pleasurable moments on this promising first album.” – Joanne Owen, BRV Magazine (UK)
“Essential album” – Billyphobia, Virus G (Spain)
The band had since relocated to the nation’s capital of Wellington, where Ben Cauchi and Tamlyn Martinovich each took their leave over the course of 1997. Jacob Sullivan replaced Cauchi long enough to complete a tour of New Zealand on Achromaticia’s release, simultaneously fronting touring support band, Reserved For Emily. Joined by guest string players, Michel and Jacob also recorded the one-off compilation track ‘Antoinette Marionette’, produced by the band’s touring sound engineer, Mark ‘Hideebeast’ Hamill of Head Like A Hole (HLAH).
1998 saw Disjecta Membra reconfigured as a five-piece band, while recording got underway for a projected follow-up album, ‘Sibylline Leaves’. Hamill left HLAH and shifted to an electronic drumkit, becoming Disjecta Membra’s first live drummer, while doubling as producer for the new album sessions. Classically trained pianist Petra Škorić replaced her Croatian kinsman Martinovich behind the keyboard stand, while bassist Jason ‘Jaz’ Murphy and guitarist Barnaby Dromgool were both co-opted from Jordan Reyne’s group, Dr. Kevorkian and the Suicide Machine.
Live highlights included playing support for Death In June’s only New Zealand show, amid the usual array of goth/punk/fringe events between Wellington and Auckland from 1998-2000. Barney quit the band in December of ’98 and was briefly replaced with Vivian Stewart, before Alex Mein Smith became a more stable feature from 1999-2000. But ongoing personality clashes and the oft-noted “revolving door policy” on membership had taken their toll, and efforts to complete the album were ultimately abandoned.
“Some have described Disjecta Membra’s leader Michel as controversial, others painful and arrogant. Is he New Zealand's answer to Andrew Eldritch? Is Disjecta Membra ‘Michel and The Hired Goons’? A membership spill – just one of many if Disjecta Membra myth is to be believed – caused the wheels to fall off.” – Haydn Black, Aether Sanctum (Australia)
Frustrated, Michel left Wellington, joining Auckland band Winterland on guitar.