Track Premiere: Alvaldur – “Nightmares Ride Across the Stars”

I sat here trying to work in some quippy ideas about Alvaldur (featuring Mare Cognitum’s Jacob Buczarski among their ranks) and how they don’t really sound like their “Cascadian” peers, but that ultimately detracts from something Alvaldur did on their own: create a great black metal album. We always get so caught up in the comparison game, be it locally, sonically, ideologically, and so on, and it hinders the actual description of music. So let’s talk about Alvaldur musically. This West Coast trio’s debut album Of Dusk and Crumbling Silence is good black metal. Now, what does that mean? It can mean a lot of things depending on context, and here Alvaldur crafts a brick house out of catchy, memorable riffs with little concern for much else. Is this one of those “riff salads?” No, not exactly. Yes, things move in a very linear route, but Alvaldur very thoughtfully placed everything together according to what can only be described as a “greater plan” for each song, maintaining a high level of excitement and energy as each progresses. Album opener “Nightmares Ride Across the Stars,” which is streaming below ahead of Of Dusk and Crumbling Silence‘s Friday the 13th release date introduces Alvaldur with powerful riffing and a proud atmosphere. What is nice about this song, and Alvaldur’s debut as a whole, is that it stands on its own without bolstering from a scene or an idea. Alvaldur simply is (and is good).

Of Dusk and Crumbling Silence releases May 13 on Labyrinth Tower

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Album Review: Mizmor & Thou – ‘Myopia’

When I was first told about this surprise release, slated to debut later today at Roadburn 2022, my first thought was: didn’t this happen already? With both Mizmor and Thou‘s propensities for collaboration, surely they would (and, as of recently, have, on a cover song with Emma Ruth Rundle) have at this point. Having realized they hadn’t made a proper collaborative release together, my next thought was: how hasn’t this happened yet? I mean, both Mizmor and Thou operate in each others’ orbits and, as stated earlier, they do like to work with other people, be it Thou’s small catalog of collaborations or Mizmor’s semi-recently-released Dialetheia, a release he shared with ambient composer (and Mizmor live member) Andrew Black. It makes so much sense, and yet for some reason or another it just… hasn’t happened. What makes this funny is, the thinkable has happened. Thou and Mizmor have made a full collaborative album together. It’s just within the realm of possibility, but also just big enough to be unbelievable at the same time.

When listening to Mizmor and Thou’s collaborative Myopia, the idea of simply staying in one box does not apply. Yes, I do know that neither of these bands have a tendency to stick to one genre, be it Mizmor’s miserable and apostative black metal, sludge, drone, and doom metal or Thou’s propensity for the massive by fusing sludge and doom metal with post-rock and (occasionally) grunge, but in this collaboration we see a deviation from the traditional “Venn diagram” approach taken in many collaborations. What I mean by that is: bands tend to meet somewhere in the middle when they collaborate, but they also bring their own ideas to the table, creating a pair of intersecting circles in which influence becomes a balancing act.

What I’m trying to say is, Thou and Mizmor (or Mizmor and Thou, depending on how you feel) don’t necessarily present an exchange in power or acquiescence to appease their collaboration partner. Yes, there are moments where Thou distinctly Thous and Mizmor undoubtedly Mizmors (if you catch my drift), but it’s the overarching movement of these artists pushing each other to move outside their comfort zone which makes Myopia a cool (and even great) album. How does this manifest? For starters, expect some black metal (more than you’d think). Sure, Mizmor uses blast beats fairly often, and Thou has even employed black metal as an outward influence as early as Summit (plus guitarist Matthew Thudium spent some time in Baton Rouge black metal band Barghest), but what we have here is a seamless mix of what makes each band unique simultaneously. Thou’s big, majestic chords transmute themselves into feisty, impassioned black metal progressions and Mizmor’s impenetrable gloom finds its way into a sludgier context.

I keep playing up this album’s employing of the black metal sound, and maybe there isn’t as much as I would have wanted found herein, but there is a lot (a lot) of doom here, too, which makes sense given both Thou and Mizmor’s existences as doom or doom-forward bands. What is nice about all the doom here (the album is 73 minutes long) is that the majority of it exists on a spectrum which looks beyond a pop structure and is simply dialed past ten the entire time. There are no weak riffs nor boring progressions; this album just goes for its entire runtime.

Though this pairing is a little on the nose, so much so that I honestly thought it had already happened, these modern titans of American doom metal continue to prove their mettle, and together they are greater than they are separately. Debuting today in a surprise set at Roadburn, Mizmor and Thou will play through Myopia in its entirety, with physical copies available at the fest, which is quite the achievement given current record industry supply chain issues.

Myopia by Mizmor & Thou

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Dylan Gers, Son of Iron Maiden Guitarist Janick Gers, Talks About His Singer-Songwriter Single “Moon Rise”

It’s always quaint to see the children of heavy metal’s most esteemed artists strive to make similar careers for themselves as musicians, but far more often than not, such attempts fall well short of expectations.

Dylan Gers, though, might wind up being an exception. The son of Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers, Dylan is following in the footsteps of such Maiden offspring as Lauren Harris, George Harris (The Raven Age), Austin Dickinson (Rise to Remain, As Lions), and Griffin Dickinson (SHVPES). However, what sets Gers apart from the rest is that his music sidesteps heavy metal and hard rock entirely.

More similar to the likes of Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, and Vini Reilly, Dylan Gers is drawn more toward the introspective, confessional side of dark music, and today he releases his debut single “Moon Rise.” Equal parts pastoral and brooding, he captures that unmistakable, English singer-songwriter style impeccably on the new track. We caught up with Dylan to learn more about “Moon Rise” and his upbringing as the son of a metal icon.

What can you tell us about your background?
Dylan Gers: I was born in London and moved to the Northeast of England (a place called Middlesbrough where the greatest football team in the world reside) at the age of 3 and lived there until I went to university. So I consider myself a Northerner! I would consider my upbringing quite normal: I went to a state school and tried to fit in, so I shaved my hair off trying to be like everyone else thinking I was cool. Until I moved to uni, I realized you can be who want, so the leather jacket came out!

What drew you to be a singer-songwriter?
Ever since I picked up the guitar I wanted to do music for the rest of my life, initially In a  band, but it’s very hard to get a band together and keep them together and keep that engine  running and after joining many bands I decided the only real person I can trust to keep the  ‘engine’ running was myself, then I just spontaneously started writing lyrics which I believe  could become songs and that a how moon rise became my first song.

Who are your biggest musical influences, especially regarding your own songwriting?
Nick Drake, The Doors (Jim in particular) The Beatles, Jeff Beck and so on. I would consider many of the musicians I’ve meet throughout my life also very influential seeing how they work and incorporating that in my own style. A range of different musical influences I grew up listening to Led Zep and Deep Purple with Gillan’s banshee screaming which still blows me away. It’s hard to pinpoint just a few bands but that’s an overview.

I like the sparseness of “Moon Rise.” What can you tell us about the track?
I guess the sparseness was to how I felt as a person during that time in my life, I went through a horrible breakup and everything was flipped upside down, the story of it is trying to get back but realizing that there’s no point and the ‘copious demand’ was too much and it’s just better to move on.

How much does “Moon Rise” inform listeners about where your songwriting is going? Is it similarly minimalist?
Moon Rise was my first attempt at songwriting, I enjoy the track myself and I’m confident in it, but I feel as my songwriting will evolve my songs will change, incorporating different elements but keeping the same vibe. I guess the reason why it’s so minimalist is due to the specific emotions I was feeling at the time which are very much easy to explain but so difficult to let go of. I believe it is also something most people have gone through in their lives which is why it didn’t need to be maximalist. The feelings I felt at the time were so heavy that I felt the song needed to be minimalistic and lighter bodied.

And here come the inevitable questions. What was it like having a dad in one of the biggest bands on the planet?
A blessing and a curse. My entire childhood I was just known as the “son of Iron Maiden,” so trying to carve out your own identity is hard and always will be when your father is in that status of a job. When I was in college I had people come up to me saying, “Why are you studying? You don’t need to do that, your dad is in so and so,” but that’s not what life is about and it’s not what I want my life to be about either.

How daunting is it to try to create your own art that stands apart from your father’s?
Very much so, I hope everyone doesn’t just pass me off as someone who’s trying to make an ‘Iron Maiden 2’ and realize that I have a style which gravitates away from the gain of guitars. As much as I do love a Strat going through a Marshall stack, that’s not what I’m about as of now.

How supportive has Janick been of your own journey into music?
He is very wise, and has always given me the best advice, telling me about the beauty of being a musician as well as the difficulties.

Just for kicks, what’s your favorite Iron Maiden song, and why?
“Strange World”, it just takes you away to a different place, a happier place. Something which is completely different from any other Maiden song they ever did. Closely followed by “The Prophecy” for that beautiful outro. Thank you, Dave Murray!

Is there an EP or a full-length album on the horizon? What can we expect from you in the immediate future?
Hopefully I will be releasing an EP in the future. I have been writing many songs, so am hoping to get them out. I cannot give an answer to whether or not this future is near, but I can guarantee that meanwhile I will continue working on my songwriting and create as much as I can.

Follow Dylan Gers on Instagram.

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Track Stream: Nechochwen – “Across the Divide”

Getting to watch Nechochwen unfurl over the past 15 years has truly been a delight. Initially songwriter Aaron “Nechohwen” Carey’s solo acoustic/folk project, it was Nechochwen’s sudden pivot into the black metal universe with 2010s Azimuths to the Otherworld which got the project the recognition it truly deserved. Now joined by Andrew “Pohonasin” D’Cagna, Nechochwen’s approach to local lore through delicate folk passages and empowered, mythical black metal left a mark on the American scene before going into a relative slumber following 2015’s Heart of Akamon. Though the band would release splits with Sweden’s Bhleg and Bindrune Recordings labelmates Panopticon, the reality of a Nechochwen full-length follow up seemed to be pushed to a further horizon. Now, after a seven year wait, Carey and D’Cagna return to the fold with the powerful Kanawha Black.

Streaming below ahead of Kanawha Black‘s May 13 release, album closer “Across the Divide” demonstrates Nechochwen’s two halves as a unified idea rather than the fragmented folk-then-metal-then-folk execution many other folky black metal bands tend to take. Opening with a rhythmic and expressive unplugged exposition, it’s the mid-paced, sung voice-led metal sections which give this song a tragic and dynamic character. Moving through Hellenic-esque black metal might and surprisingly progressive passages, the guitar heroics found on this particular song are no stranger to master guitarist Carey, whose guitar solo work has been a highlight of the metal-oriented Nechochwen discography. As a whole, Kanawha Black is Nechochwen’s masterwork–their most refined and forceful vision to date.

Pre-orders for a gatefold vinyl edition (with a listening CD if you’re too afraid to spin your copy, you flipper scum!) are open now.

From the artist:

“Across the Divide” is, like several other songs in our catalog, about wandering and the spirit of the journey. Whether a figurative quest in life or a long-term trek in the wilderness, the struggles encountered can seem insurmountable but ultimately bring growth and confidence. Reaching the divide between beginning a challenge and seeing its completion gives strength and clarity. We see this as applicable in our earthly experiences and perhaps it applies also to the divide between life and what comes after.

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Dan Swanö on STEEL, the Short-Lived Supergroup With Members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity

Steel was a short-lived supergroup formed by members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity during the Morningrise sessions in early 1996. Eschewing both sides’ penchants for progressive death metal, Steel was an exercise in both traditional metal rippers and cock rock balladry. Featuring an unprecedented falsetto vocal performance by Dan Swanö and lighter-raising guitar wizardry by Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt (as well as stellar performances from rhythm section Peter Lindgren and Anders Nordin), Steel’s 1996 demo cassette was an underground rarity until it was finally released by Near Dark Productions as a picture disc 7-inch in 1998 under the name Heavy Metal Machine. We had Swanö sit down with us to tell the full Steel story.

The whole idea was born when me and the drummer from Opeth at the time [Anders Nordin] and Mikael [Åkerfeldt], we were in a pizzeria in Örebro where the album was recorded. We just finished what I thought might be the drum sounds for Morningrise and I just threw an idea that since we had four weeks, maybe we could take the time to record a bunch of rhythm guitars and bass on top of the drums to hear if they survive when there is a wall of sound thrown at them.

We discussed trying pieces of songs atop them, which would have made sense to record an actual Opeth song, but we were not sensible at the time, so we came up with the idea of recording something else for fun since we had the time. What should we do? I thought about this style of music that at the time of recording, which was 1996 in March or April. What is the most out style of music at the time? We started throwing stuff around and came to the conclusion that a heavy metal band that sounds a bit like a cross between [Accept’s] “Fast as a Shark” and [Judas Priest’s] “Freewheel Burning” – that is the most out style of music ever. You would probably get shot if you played that style at the time. We were laughing our brains out, like sneezing pizza out of our noses we were laughing so hard. Fuck, let’s form this band! We recorded a minute of a song called “Guitars and Metal” and I did this wailing style of singing. I remember the lyrics of the chorus being like “Guitars and metal, you’re going to die! We’re the soldiers of steel!” or something like that. What if we called the band Steel? That would be fun.

It was supposed to be a one-off, but for some reason we did a cassette copy, like a rough mix with guitars, bass, and my singing, and, of course, drums, and kind of forgot about it. Then we were invited to a party with some friends of Peter [Lindgren]’s, and for some reason that Steel song got played on the hostess’ hi-fi system. Everyone laughed their brains out because it was so out, like stuff they heard in 1986. It was funny to hear me sing Steeeeeeel! The more people got drunk, the more they listened to that fucking song. I must have heard it 500 times that evening. Of course, me and Mike and Anders felt we were onto something. Maybe we could do a full demo in this funny style, give people more or laugh about it. This is like Spinal Tap funny, after all.

We booked some studio time later that year. It’s on the Unisound homepage – we have the guestbook that you can download. There is the Steel recording and the Opeth recordings if you want to get the timeline correct to the month. We started recording the “Rock Tonight” song and Mike had that opening riff that sounded kind of like Judas Priest around Screaming for Vengeance. Then I think we wrote the ballad [“Say Goodbye (to Love)”] and that was more of a cock rock song, and then I wrote “Heavy Metal Machine” that was more like “Freewheel Burning” and “Fast as a Shark.” I secretly loved that stuff. I was going through a phase of Riot, Screaming…, and so on. I have no real trend limitations to what I like… I think the only time I liked what I liked when I liked it was the death metal thing, otherwise I was 10 years early or 10 years too late with stuff [laughs].

All said and done, we recorded these three songs and I will never forget how completely broken I was. My stomach hurt, my throat hurt, my brain hurt from this nonstop falsetto. I had done it a little bit on Diabolical Masquerade on the first album. It’s this kind of style, you know? Let’s just do that.

I mixed it and “the guys” were all there, and then we went to another party with that same crowd as before. We wanted to surprise them with the Steel demo.

“Remember the last time? Steel?”
STEEL!” everyone replied.

And we played it for everyone and the vibe died. We were laughing our asses off. Total musician humor. It was too good, it could have been a record from 1986. It wasn’t funny to them, but it was! It was Spinal Tap funny! Nobody did this type of music. That kind of died a little bit with the reception from that party crowd. After that, Steel was funny and we had our copies, and then HammerFall happened, and god forbid that anyone had thought we had heard HammerFall and thought, “This style is coming back! Let’s take the members of Opeth and Edge of Sanity and make a HammerFall style demo!” That just wasn’t going to happen, especially since in these days we couldn’t really say it wasn’t the case. There wasn’t the Internet or magazines who took interest in us so when the rumor spread, we couldn’t deny it in a good way, so we buried Steel for a very long time, at least until some Swedish label wanted to do a 7-inch picture disc. I thought “Oh, what the fuck, you know?” Who would care now? I finally have that one and it’s still on the wall in my office [laughs].

That’s it! That’s how Steel ended. There’s this Dutch label who has been trying to release it on vinyl for the past 10 years. I think Opeth’s management is pretty keen on burying it for some reason. It’s on YouTube! It’s out there! Then there is the idea that you should monetize it… I’ve been asked if I could put it on Bandcamp and… [grumbles]. You get into who wrote what or another. I could easily release Steel and donate all the money to cancer research or something, but that’s not the case. I don’t want to deal with contracts and money. Like I said, it’s on YouTube – listen to it there. It’s not like no one’s ever heard it. [Edit: It would appear that Vic Records will be reissuing the Heavy Metal Machine EP after all!]

I was in a lot of bands, but nothing which sounded anything like Heavy Metal Machine. Maybe the band Icarus I was in after the band Ghost [Writer’s note: not the Ghost you’re thinking of]. That melodic, hard rock, Swedish style. It was good to finally have done it once.

Dictated by Dan Swanö, transcribed by Jon Rosenthal

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Premiere: Morgul Blade Lifts Their Sword On High On New Single “The Morgul Blade”

I tried to think of a lot of smart things to say about Morgul Blade, but I figure I’ll put it in simpler terms: Morgul Blade kicks ass. Their black metal-guided take on something they call “True Metal,” which I’ve learned essentially means US power metal but with high fantasy influence and a little more oomph, is simply badass; a true exercise in a metal what’s-what. Big, catchy riffs? Yeah, in droves. Powerful melodies? Duh. High fantasy concept? Of course. And would the album art look great airbrushed on the side of a van? 100 percent, yes. With all this, it almost seems like these Philly heads are a meme or caricature of metal, but do not assume that. Morgul Blade are the real deal — they don’t need some dude saying ineffectual prose about them — and their upcoming debut full-length, Fell Sorcery Abounds, out on No Remorse Records in November, is bound to slay all who pose. Streaming below is an exclusive pre-release debut of the band’s titular song, “The Morgul Blade” and companion synthesizer intro “He Who Sits Upon the Black Throne of Angmar.”

Fell Sorcery Abounds by Morgul Blade

Pre-order Fell Sorcery Abounds from No Remorse on LP and CD here.

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Video Premiere and Interview: Snares of Sixes (ex-Agalloch) – “MoonBladder”

There’s a lot to be said about the unexpected in music, be it a new or sudden sound, or even an extra, added layer of depth to one of your favorite musicians. A quick bout of research on the ol’ Encyclopaedia Metallum shows former Agalloch and Khôrada bassist Jason Walton to be one of the more experimentally pedigreed musicians in their database. To those who follow Walton’s escapades, this is not new, with memories of the exceedingly strange Especially Like Sloth MySpace page or Nothing’s grey misery.

With Snares of Sixes, featuring a core of fellow former Agalloch member Don Anderson as well as Sculptured bandmate Marius Sjøli and musician Robert Hunter, as well as a rotating cast which features members of Winds, Barrowlands, and even Lawnmower Deth, Walton looks to the lesser-explored ends of his own unexpected discography. On upcoming full-length album MoonBladder, what once was a 25-minute MIDI doom metal cover of Rush’s “Red Barchetta” turns into an abstract soundscape, filled with the sounds of rattling bed frames, mutated guitar solos, and a particularly stirring sung passage by Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver. Watch a full-length MoonBladder video and read an in-depth interview with Jason Walton below.

MoonBladder is more an experience than a piece of music. I wanted to ask about the process of taking this 25-minute MIDI composition and adding the layers of improvisation over it. What was this like and what goals did you have in mind during its creation?

I started it trying to, with most things when writing music, I’m just trying to stretch my legs and just kind of feel it out, see what’s coming out of me. I don’t really have a specific goal in mind. With this, it was actually a 25-minute cover of Rush’s “Red Barchetta.” It was ridiculous of me. I was just doing it for fun and was turning it into this doom metal thing. I don’t even like Rush that much. It was just something I did, but then I was spending more time on it and thought it could be really cool, but why was I wasting my time on a cover? I was looking at it like a foundation and adding layers on top of that and layers on top of that and deleting foundational layers and moving on from there. Marius [Sjøli] and Robert [Hunter] and all these people were giving me other pieces that I was moving in there and adding in there. After a few months, there’s no Rush at all anymore. I have some sections in there that are live improv with Robert, sections that are improv with Nick [Wusz] and Robert, and then we started adding more pieces to it. It’s a really strange process, the way it came to be. It doesn’t make any sense because it started as one thing and added tons of other layers to it and it became something completely different. That’s how I tend to work sometimes, especially with projects like Snares.

This is also a very different experience than the last Snares of Sixes (Yeast Mother) which moved into the more avant-garde metal stuff that you’ve discussed at length in other interviews. What made you want to make something more abstract?

Well, I felt Yeast Mother was something I had to get out of my system. I wanted to make an album that sounded like Mr. Bungle and The Locust, and once I did that I felt like I could move onto something else. Listening back to Yeast Mother, I realize there’s not enough organic elements for me. It’s too synthesized, too over the top. That was my goal, but it wasn’t what I wanted this time around. With MoonBladder I made a conscious choice and conscious effort to use organic instruments, like real guitars. I wanted to have organic instruments, organic sounds, field recordings mixed in with MIDI mixed in with analog synths. I wanted the sound to be more whole and more cohesive rather than everything being plugins and VSTs. I just wanted to take more care with it. Yeast Mother was meticulous, but MoonBladder… I learned from Yeast Mother and wanted to move on. I love abstract music and music which is hard to follow, I just wanted to do it a different way. It just sort of emerged and I just kind of let it do its thing. If it makes me happy, I keep it. I just let the music emerge and keep my intention as far out of it as I can, outside of knowing what I like and knowing what I want.

If people were to do some digging, they’d find you’ve had so many projects. What kind of came to mind with some of the more intense moments on MoonBladder took me back to Especially Like Sloth.

Yep. There’s always going to be a little bit of Sloth in me. That was basically, outside of my grindcore band in high school, that was the first project I had which was all me. Experimenting with 4-tracks and sound design. Unless you’re talking about Sculptured or Agalloch or something like that, most of my stuff was rooted in sound design or some cinematic expression. I started that journey with Sloth, so there’s always going to be a little bit of that in there. You’re right, especially with this record, it has some almost Agalloch moments because of Don [Anderson], but you’re always going to hear other things. I hear a bit of Nothing in there sometimes. It’s me, it’s who I am, and it’s going to come through. Personally, I think Moonbladder is my most realized and most cohesive thing I’ve ever done.

This feels like a culmination with all these interlocking pieces. You’re saying it’s your most realized piece, but did you go into this with that type of expected depth?

No, this was a big Hail Mary shot for me. It started as this stupid cover I didn’t really care about, and when layers started revealing themselves and things started to emerge, I realized I wanted to take this seriously. It was turning into something really cool. From there, I just wanted to take it beyond what I’ve done before. I was just way more, like I said earlier, I was way more meticulous about it, but there’s only so much control you can have over this. I thought it would be relegated to Bandcamp, maybe a couple people would hear it. I’m shocked. It’s going to be released on vinyl by Nefarious Industries, CD by Transcending… a whole PR campaign behind it, a full-length video. I thought nobody would care, but it’s the classic “the sum is greater than its parts.” I can’t even take much credit for it. We just stumbled into something moving and unique. I’m extremely proud of it. I did put a lot of work into it, obviously, but sometimes it’s just happy accidents or doing the right thing at the right time. I couldn’t be happier with it.

I wanted to talk about the guests on the album, as there are a bunch of people who make appearances on it. Be it members of Sculptured or Lawnmower Deth, what did you want each person to bring into the album?

“Guests” and “members” is a grey area for me. There’s a core to Snares, and that’s me, Marius, Robert, and Don. They’ll always be involved in Snares if they want to be. There’s some other revolving people… I don’t like to call them “guests,” really. It just depends on the record. Andy Winter’s been on the first two… when I start a record, I say “Hey, Robert. Send me something. I don’t care what it is.” “Marius, send me something. I don’t care what it is.” I take these pieces, mold these pieces, sometimes delete them outright. Then I send them a mixdown and ask for another layer. I might ask Don for a solo or an acoustic piece. It’s almost like paints on a palette. IT’s pretty rare I say I want something particular like style until the very end, like with Toby Driver on this record. I just wanted him to sing something, something awesome, and he did, but in the beginning pieces it’s just throwing shit at me and seeing what I can make happen. It’s hard, because sometimes I say something isn’t working and I have to delete the whole thing, but I make sure to work with people who understand it’s not personal… it’s not even their material, it’s just how it fits with what I’m trying to work with.

I wanted to talk about a story I’ve read which involves Lawnmower Deth

I love Lawnmower Deth!

So I’ve heard, to the point where you joined them onstage, dressed as a… chicken?

A sheep!

How did that happen?

Well, in high school I loved Lawnmower Deth. I found them on the Grindcrusher comp. They stuck out so strangely, like “How is this band on this label on this comp?” It didn’t make sense to me, but I really loved it, so I got Ooh Crikey It’s… Lawnmower Deth and I got their records and I listened to them all the time. On the CD I had for Ooh Crikey there’s some live songs at the end. I remember listening to them and thinking it’s so strange about this band in England playing these songs. I thought there’s no way I’d see this band, being a kid growing up in Montana. Fast forward 20 years and I’m touring Norway with Agalloch. The guy who runs the venue gives us a tour all over Trondheim and gets us all these beers… we get back to the venue and he takes off his shirt and he has this massive Lawnmower Deth tattoo on his chest. I was like What the fuck? And he said he did their artwork and has been their artist ever since Dan Seagrave did their cover! Because of him, he introduced me to the guys from Facebook. It turns out Lawnmower and Agalloch were playing Bloodstock on the same day. We ended up playing at noon or something on a Saturday and Lawnmower were headlining a different stage. They asked if I wanted to join them onstage and be the sheep for their song “Sheep Dip.” It was my favorite Lawnmower song, so it totally worked out. They’re super great guys. It was really surreal for me to be onstage with Lawnmower, and we’ve been friends ever since. I thought it would be cool to include Pete on this record — he was also on Yeast Mother. He doesn’t do very much, but I appreciate his contribution nonetheless. I think Snares is kind of unique because people get the record and I don’t remember what I did on it, it was so long ago and I changed so much. I’m sure Pete wouldn’t be able to tell you what he did.

There’s your connection as a fan of Lawnmower Deth and you have a member of on the album. What was it like asking someone from this thrash band to be on this very experimental recording?

It was unexpected! I figured people who knew Lawnmower Deth wouldn’t expect Pete [Lee] to be on a record like this. I also think that unless someone knows me very well, they wouldn’t expect me to be a fan, either. I thought it would look strange on paper, which I like. I ask people to be in Snares because… it’s two different things: I respect and admire them as a musician and I love them as a friend. Anyone who doesn’t fit those categories wouldn’t be on a Snares recording. Pete and I talk often. He’s a super good guy. I’ve been a fan forever. I asked him to recite some lyrics or poetry and I could use it as some jumbled vocals in the background. It’s a way for me to connect with people who I love, and it’s super fun. Why not? Why not ask Pete from Lawnmower Deth? It’s just so neat to look at it in that way. Pete’s a vocalist. He’s in a thrashy band, but the recording isn’t thrashing. Martti [Hill] is a drummer, but in Snares he bangs on bed frames and blows into singing bowls and things like that. I like to rethink things and think about music and have people involved in a different way. That’s really it. I ask people who I admire and I love.

This is coming out in tandem with another recording of yours which has been a long time coming: Sculptured’s The Liminal Phase. We have these two halves to Jason William Walton: this prog rock and metal and experimental and abstract styles. Do you feel you’ve encompassed yourself with these recordings?

There’s definitely more I want to cover, but this month is a nice sampling of me, in a way. MoonBladder is intensely personal to me, but also Sculptured is Don’s baby, but it’s almost mine as much as it is his, you know? There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into both records and it definitely wasn’t planned this way, but it’s nice to have both records coming out around the same time. Don’s doing PR for Sculptured and I’m doing this. It’s nice! I just texted him this morning, like “Decibel interview this morning!” and he said “Yeah! I did mine a few months ago!”

This is a nice sampling, but there’s so much more I want to do. I think I’m wrapping up another three or four records alone this year with different projects.

Care to divulge any?

It’s been out there but not a lot of people know Andy Whale from Bolt Thrower asked me to play bass in his new death metal band.


Yeah it’s really cool. It’s called Death Collector. It’s Andy and myself, and then Kieran from Ashen Crown on vocals and Mick from Zealot Cult on guitars. It’s killer. I’m super happy with the material. It’s a huge honor to have Andy ask me. I listen to the demo tracks and I get a huge smile on my face. It’s just huge, really good old school death metal like you’d expect from Andy Whale. I have the Poisoning Wave project with Joy Von Spain from Eye of Nix. I have Sleep Chains with Carl from Occlith and Chrch and Feral Season… It’s kind of like an industrial Godflesh type project, we’re working on a full-length. I have a Nothing reissue coming out on Transcending Records pretty soon. Lots in the works.

MoonBladder releases October 1 on Nefarious Industries.

The post Video Premiere and Interview: Snares of Sixes (ex-Agalloch) – “MoonBladder” appeared first on Decibel Magazine.


Track Premiere: Noltem – “Figment”

My relationship with Noltem dates back over a decade and a half at this point, all fueled by a chance discovery on a small forum, a search fueled by a desire to hear more folk-inspired, dark, dreamy metal. Then the venture of sole-musician Max Johnson, Noltem’s demo Hymn of the Wood would become the band’s epitaph, the band itself fizzling out after a label fell through for the fabled Ashes EP in 2007.

Noltem would eventually return (and with my help). I introduced Max Johnson to drummer and vocalist John Kerr (Pyrithe, Seidr, Yahar’gul, you get the idea), who together recorded the Mannaz EP which was released in 2015, ten years after Hymn of the Wood. Similar in style to the demo’s atavistic, calming dark metal and folk musics, Mannaz was an atmospheric affair, taking from Noltem’s roots and bringing them into the mid-2010s with a significantly stronger black metal influence.

Now armed with new bassist Shalin Shah, Noltem all but completely sheds their former self in favor of the progressive and challenging. Take, for example, album opener “Figment,” whose powerful opening progression truly sets the tone for the rest of the album. Using big, leafy chords and live, punchy, grooving drums, “Figment’”s progressive nature isn’t necessarily “prog,” but still sets itself apart from the atmospheric black metal tag to which their label (Transcending Obscurity) imbues this album. Aligning themselves more with “dark metal” (a nebulous tag I like to use for bands which aren’t quite black metal but still carry its spirit with a sense of melodic longing. Notable bands would be Agalloch, Thy Serpent, and so on), Noltem’s approach is almost a complete departure from their folky roots, though Johnson’s songwriting still has some “folky Easter eggs” up its sleeve. In short, Noltem doesn’t really care about fitting into one box anymore. They aren’t necessarily black metal in the same way they aren’t “prog;” they carry the style’s spirit as an appendix to their own home style, a seemingly endless fusion of styles and emotions which fill the listener with a sense of pastoral longing and colorful feelings. Listen to an exclusive premiere of “Figment” below.

(Illusions in the Wake releases October 10th on Transcending Obscurity. Preorder it here.)

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Demo Stream: Ceres – ‘Tyrants Rise’

There are many words which can be used to describe listening to an old heavy metal tape, but the one which strikes me the most is classic. Heavy metal is about being classic, reclaiming the days of old and deifying the genre’s triumphs through worship and tribute; cutting one’s teeth on the riffs which made heavy metal great and presenting them in a new light. On their debut cassette, new U.S. power metal duo Ceres capitalizes on classic, “true” metal’s catchy and infectious nature, feeding upon the powerful character which the genre forerunners defined in the ’70s and ’80s and bringing it to the new decade.

On Tyrants Rise, the duo of Jesse Balgley and Leo Kabat’s Ceres debut, the band positions itself among the classics. Written with hook after hook and incredibly (incredibly) powerful vocals, Ceres’ smooth as silk and sledgehammer-heavy riffing is a trip to the days of old, a tape which could very well have been traded and left in a closet for eons, now suddenly unearthed as a pristine relic. Stream Tyrants Rise in full and read an interview with both Balgley and Kabat below.

Your artist bio declares the vast majority of modern heavy metal to be mediocre. What about it is mediocre to you and how does Ceres overcome these obstacles?

Jesse Balgley: Mediocrity is more easily felt than explained. There are lots of bands who dress the part or have all the right gear but lack the ability to craft memorable songs, which is ultimately what matters most. When a song doesn’t grip you or leave you with a hook stuck in your head, that’s mediocrity, no matter how “cool” the band looks. Ceres is concerned with songwriting before anything else and we let all other aspects of the band follow from the music we create. To avoid mediocrity, we look to our influences, not simply emulating musical styles of old school bands, but more so paying attention to how albums were written and sequenced in the golden era of heavy metal, striving for diversity in sound that will keep listeners engaged and excited.

Leo Kabat: That’s a blurb that someone else wrote – but nonetheless I would have to agree. It’s plain enough to see this trend of bands rehashing old ideas without adding any spark of their own–and that doesn’t do it for me. You can name-drop all the classics you want, but it’s not going to do your band any favors when it’s lacking in authenticity. Let the music do the talking!

What did you learn in your search for fellow “unpolished” heavy metal and why do you feel it is a struggle?

JB: The most glaring realization (though maybe the least surprising) is that truly compelling metal comes from real diehards: people for whom metal made an impact at an early age and who stuck with it against ridicule and being misunderstood, whether it was popular or not. The “struggle” we’re highlighting isn’t necessarily the adversities we face individually, but instead the difficulty of finding like minded people who aren’t just jumping on the bandwagon when metal is trending.

LK: Well, firstly it’s not about whether a band plays “polish or unpolish” heavy metal–there are certainly some great bands from Poland! Probably it was more difficult for those eastern block bands of the 80’s–but for us, it is not so much of a struggle. Information and equipment is readily available nowadays and you just have to know where to look, and more importantly where (and when) NOT to look!

What about being unpolished and genuine appeals to you? What did you do in your songwriting process to achieve this?

JB: Seems obvious, haha, who would want to be disingenuous? And yet many are! Authenticity doesn’t necessarily imply unpolished-ness, and certainly doesn’t mean “lo-fi or die”. On the contrary, a genuine band doesn’t care if they have the most old-school sound, the right outfits or vintage t-shirts, or the most perfectly curated social media presence. That’s the kind of polish we’re against. We stayed true to the music we love and didn’t pay attention to whatever is making waves this month. We made sure our recording sounded good to us, taking cues from classic heavy metal albums of course but not just trying to sound like we recorded it in the ’80s.

LK: We recorded all instruments and vocals ourselves–something we’ve each done for quite some time with our other respective projects. We took care to get the sound as close to what WE want to hear. As for the writing process–it never stops, so it’s always handled roughly!

How do you feel Ceres continues the US power metal legacy? For the uninitiated, what makes US power metal special and different from EU power metal?

LK: We continue the legacy because we play Powerful metal and are from the US of course! Those who are uninitiated are not necessarily our target audience – but even they can listen to the demo and draw their own conclusions. It goes without saying that we enjoy the classics, as well as the lesser-known bands from both the US and Europe–however these categorizations are the last thing on my mind when writing my contributions for CERES, or any project for that matter. After all, this is not Research and Development… this is Heavy Metal. It all comes down to the FEELING. Nobody else can feel it for YOU…!


JB: I see early US power metal as much more rugged than its European counterpart, and is more characteristically anthemic and mid-tempo than fast ‘n’ loose. Lyrical themes often deal with battle, conquest, honor, and death; it can be both dark and flashy, which appeals to me. One of the biggest distinguishing factors is the “kingly” vocal style/delivery championed by legends like Mark Shelton, JD Kimball, Harry Conklin, and Eric Adams. While I was raised on equal portions of European and US metal and don’t favor one over the other, I felt that not enough bands today draw from the US style and often lack aggression and bravado. We decided to hone in on these traits to show that US power metal lives on.

Though Ceres is rooted in the “old ways,” how do you feel it will further U.S. power metal (if that’s your intent)?

JB: US power has already been perfected and its heyday is long past, so we can only strive to make more memorable songs that make listeners feel empowered themselves and give people something to bang their head and raise their fist to.

LK: We will continue to make music that we believe in–with the conviction and feeling that WE would want to hear in ‘modern’ music ourselves.

Tyrants Rise releases July 2nd on Electric Assault Records.

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Sculptured Release First New Music in 13 Years, Announce ‘The Liminal Phase’ LP

Sculptured has always lived in the shadow of its twin. Having shared members with Agalloch, it could be said that this international progressive metal band was viewed as more of a side project for songwriter Don Anderson (and bassist Jason William Walton, for that matter), and it kind of was. Taking a back seat to Agalloch’s increasing popularity up until the band’s demise in 2016, Sculptured—Anderson’s main vehicle for self-expression—went into hibernation, but this wasn’t new. With an eight year gap between 2000’s Apollo Ends and the subsequent Embodiment, it’s no surprise that Sculptured would take over a decade to re-emerge, but Anderson works at his own pace.

Thirteen years after Embodiment and unencumbered by Agalloch’s presence, Sculptured returns to the spotlight with The Liminal Phase, and with a new album comes a new about-face in sound. From The Spear of the Lily is Aureoled‘s progressive take on dark melodic death metal, to Apollo Ends‘ even more adventurous departure from death metal, to Embodiment‘s embracing of atonal death metal’s tenets, Sculptured changing sound and adapting over time is a notable reality for this band, and The Liminal Phase is no different.

While its predecessors could be seen as progressive rock albums just as much as their metal counterparts, The Liminal Phase‘s more outright metalisms—driving double-bass drumming and big, chugging riffs, especially—reflect both a new era and a new lineup for this long-standing project. Now featuring newcomers Marius Sjøli (guitars, vocals) and Martti Hill (drums) to accompany returning member Andy Winter (keyboards) and the core lineup of Anderson and Walton, Anderson prefers to take a back seat to let his fellow bandmates flourish. Eschewing control, Sculptured’s primary songwriter prefers to let his band be a vehicle for his bandmates’ musical personalities and ideas, resulting in a duality of Sjøli’s calm, hushed voice and Hill’s powerful percussive presence. Walton’s own mastering, which gives The Liminal Phase a miasmic, larger-than-life quality, really drives the point home: Sculptured are talented individuals making memorable, complex music which sets itself aside from “prog metal’”s glut. Presenting a more human take on the style, Sculptured’s uniquely emotive new album transcends “prog” and positions itself as something truly progressive. Watch an exclusive video debut of album opener “The Ordeal of Undecidability” and read an interview with Don Anderson below.

Though the wait between Apollo Ends and Embodiment shows that Sculptured works at its own pace, the 13 year silence which falls between Embodiment and The Liminal Phase made many wonder if Sculptured was still active. Was there anything going on behind the scenes? What made you want to bring Sculptured back after such a long hiatus?

Well, all my other bands broke up! But, seriously, I’ve had ideas going since 2010. But, it wasn’t till after Agalloch broke up in 2016 that I really dug in and wrapped the main songwriting. The attention I was able to give Sculptured was ultimately determined by the attention I had to give Agalloch and my academic career. Agalloch began touring more regularly around 2010 and I was wrapping up grad school and beginning to go on the academic job market at the same time. I always had ideas flowing, but putting together a new lineup more or less and working on the kinks of recording long distance seemed daunting. Honestly, I was enjoying the success of Agalloch and felt I should put most of my musical focus there since things were really growing with the band. I do feel a little bit bad that I neglected my own project, but I also considered Agalloch to be just as much a part of myself as Sculptured. So, as long as I was doing any kind of music I was content.

The Liminal Phase is still centered around three core members who performed on Embodiment (Andy Winter on keyboards, Jason William Walton on bass, and yourself handling guitars and vocals), but Sculptured is now joined by Formloff’s Marius Sjøli on guitars/lead vocals and Barrowlands’ Martti Hill on drums. What was it like opening up your musical world to more people this time around?

It was great. I love working with new people and encouraging them to exercise total freedom with what they do. I don’t ask for anything specific from any of the musicians I work with—in fact, it’s really a fundamental work ethic of mine not to interfere in any way. If we’re working together, that means I trust you and I’m confident that you will do the best you can do with your instrument. For example, when I asked Jo Quail to do some cello for me, I simply said “please play cello at this part of the song.” She’s brilliant and I don’t want to get in the way of her talent. That’s how I work with all of these folks. My favorite story that best sums this up is the time when Dave Murray recorded drums for Embodiment. I didn’t hear the final and finished drum tracks—what is on the album—until they were permanently done. No demos, nothing. It was great. Imagine my surprise when I did hear them! That’s magic to me. I love surprises and would prefer not to have any control over anyone I work with in order to make the process all about the potential for surprises and happy accidents.

I understand Martti tracked his drums back in 2017. How much time did you spend composing and recording The Liminal Phase?

Since all of us record from home it’s really a little here and a little there. I would say the last 3 years or so is where the bulk of the main recording happened. The composing could go back as far as 2010.

Do you feel the “Matrix Metal” tag still applies to Sculptured in the The Liminal Phase era?

Not at all. I didn’t use any serial techniques this time around. I began using matrices for Embodiment because I wanted to force myself out of deeply ingrained patterns, melodies, and chords. Every instrumentalist struggles with this. You get used to doing the same licks and relying on the same chords for riffs. You can of course learn new scales and chords, but even then, it’s very easy to unconsciously fall back on old habits. So, using serialism by composing with matrices catapulted me out of tonality, key signatures, standard chords, and melody. Not every riff was written that way—that would have been overkill. But, even now I find Embodiment really, really dissonant and atonal. I love it, but I think once I got that out of my system I was able to return to tonality and begin writing in regular key signatures again. I felt refreshed. I’m writing new music already and I’ve returned to a few of those serial techniques, but so far it’s much more balanced. It’s just another compositional tool at this point.

What does Sculptured mean to you now?

As I get older, I take stock of those things that have been with me nearly my whole life. I started playing guitar at 9 years old. I started Sculptured when I was 15. Now, I’m 42. Of course, it hasn’t been a consistent project, but I often think of my 15 year old self and telling him, “hey, I’m still doing this thing.” It’s very rewarding and brings a deep and existential continuity to my life.

The latest Sculptured bio highlights Sculptured and Agalloch coexisting during the Apollo Ends (2000) and Pale Folklore (1999) days, the former essentially absorbing the latter with added members at that time. What is your musical experience with your bandmate Jason Walton like within the Sculptured lens? Does it differ from the way you interacted as members of Agalloch?

That’s a great question. First, there is a very special connection between Jason, John, and myself. Obviously we’ve had our ups and downs. But, those very early times were crazy. We would rehearse Pale Folklore and then turn around and rehearse Sculptured. We compared it to a car and when it was John driving, we were Agalloch. When it was me driving, we were Sculptured. But, regarding Jason in particular, he’s been my closest musical collaborator for my whole life. He moved out from Minnesota to live with me for 6 months to join Sculptured—not Agalloch. Agalloch came later. So, he and I initially connected through the Sculptured demo from 1996. He then lived with me when I was still in my parents’ house. We spent all our days listening to and writing music. I think he best understands me and Sculptured better than anyone else. He’s my best friend and is the sort of musician where we don’t have to talk about what we are doing musically—we just do it. I can’t imagine Sculptured, or honestly, my life without him.

In terms of playing with him in Agalloch, that was more of me being in a band with one of my best friends. But, with Sculptured he really is a fundamental member and I see Sculptured as Jason and I at its very core.

The Liminal Phase features a heavier and more overtly metallic Sculptured when compared to the material which precedes it. What inspired you to make such an aggressive album?

I think we were just lucky with the guitar tones and Jason did a brilliant and meticulous job with the mix. I used my Gibson Les Paul and SG through my Marshall JCM 900. I’m definitely of the opinion that the classics are a classic for a reason. I don’t like to mess with my rhythm tone at all. You are hearing a pure Gibson/Marshall tone on this record. I think bands can get too hung up on searching for a perfect tone. Tone comes from your hands first, and then your guitar and amp. I really believe you don’t need anything else. Again, it’s about not getting in the way of the magic.

Marius Sjøli’s voice proves to be a more laid-back (but still emotive) alternative to what would normally be a very bombastic performance in what would classically be considered progressive metal. Though previous Sculptured albums featured alternative takes on the progressive metal vocal format, what led to using this vocal style, and was this under your guidance?

In the beginning, Sculptured was a death metal band with some clean vocals. I knew I wanted clean vocals from the start because they are too dynamic and emotive to completely forego if you are already writing melodic metal. But, I definitely didn’t want “metal” vocals—I just wanted a regular voice. My point of reference was Dan Swanö. That led to me asking my friend in jazz choir at the time, Brian Yager. Marius to me just has a natural and beautiful voice. He’s also a longtime friend of Jason’s and mine. So, he was a clear choice. I gave him zero guidance. He’s a natural songwriter and vocal arranger. I couldn’t have done what he did. He really made the record for me.

This is the first time you didn’t contribute to a Sculptured album lyrically. As Sculptured is primarily your project, what was it like giving up that element of control? How did this affect your songwriting?

I loved it! Again, I hate control. I always say that artists are the worst thing to happen to art. So many artists let their egos, desires, or expectations get in the way of what’s actually coming out of the speakers. So, I knew if Marius was going to do his own thing, he should use his own lyrics. I had written some lyrics already, so we kept those, but otherwise I encouraged him to do his own thing. The only thing I did was send him some pictures and a few quotes from influential philosophers for inspiration. That way he was sort of thematically on the same wavelength. But, even that is a cool indirect way of communicating—through images and quotes.

With so much time now separating us from Sculptured’s previous three albums, how do you view them in hindsight? Do you have a favorite?

I know other bands say this, but my favorite is the one I’m writing now. And I’m incredibly lucky and fortunate to be able to say that. I’m proud of all the albums and even if there are aspects I would never repeat now, those albums are a snapshot of where I was musically.

The Liminal Phase releases August 27th on BMG.

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