Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

cortez

Let’s face it: a new Cortez outing doesn’t come along every day. The Boston heavy rockers offered up their first release in 2007’s Thunder in a Forgotten Town EP through Buzzville Records. It would be five years before they’d answer with their 2012 Bilocation Records self-titled debut full-length (review here), and five more beyond that for the recently-landed second album, The Depths Below (review here), to make its mark this year as their first domestically-backed collection, issued via the Connecticut-based imprint Salt of the Earth Records. They had a 2014 split with Borracho (review here) and a 2016 digital single covering Deep Purple‘s “Stormbringer” (posted here), but still, they’re not exactly what you’d call prolific.

But, when a new Cortez outing does arrive, it’s all the more of an occasion worth marking. The last half-decade has brought some significant changes in the band, as seen in the departure of longtime drummer Jeremy Hemond (who still plays on The Depths Below) and his replacement with Alexei Rodriguez and the addition of second guitarist Alasdair Swan alongside founding six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, bassist/backing vocalist Jay Furlo and frontman Matt Harrington, but one thing that has remained central to the band is their songwriting. The Depths Below, from the opening aggro thrust of “All Gone Wrong” through the three-part storytelling of “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs,” and the Life of Agony-esque “Dead Channel” late in the tracklisting, is a shining example of how Cortez are and seem to have always been underrated for the quality of their craft and the purpose of their execution. A well-kept secret known to denizens of smaller Boston-area venues and European labels, it would seem, but primed nonetheless for a wider reach.

As they have been all along. Maybe on that level the lessons of The Depths Below are a refresher course in the kind of straightforward righteousness Cortez have honed since they got their start more than a decade ago, but if check-ins from them are to be so periodic in their nature, then attention and appreciation for the band’s work on its own terms are no less duly earned than they might be if they busted out a new record every eight months. In the interview that follows, O’Dowd and Harrington talk about making The Depths Below and the shifts in lineup Cortez have undergone since the self-titled, as well as the work that’s already begun on their next outing, which is set to arrive whenever the hell they decide it’s good and ready to arrive.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

cortez the depths below

Six Dumb Questions with Cortez

A lot has changed for Cortez since the self-titled. How do you feel about everything that’s gone down with the band in the last five years? Tell me about bringing in Alasdair on guitar and Alexei on drums. How do you feel about where the band is at now?

Scott O’Dowd: In the five years since the release of our self-titled album, quite a lot has happened. Not the least of which was adding Alasdair on second guitar. We’ve always envisioned ourselves as a two-guitar band, but after Tony (our original second guitarist) left the band in 2008, we continued on as a four-piece. This was only because we didn’t have anyone else in mind to fill the position. We’re big believers in chemistry, both musically and personally, so rather than adding someone that we didn’t know, we decided to continue with the four remaining members until we found the right fifth member. Alasdair (who happens to be married to my wife’s cousin) had recently moved to the US from Scotland and we really hit it off on a musical and personal level. I told the rest of the guys about him and he came down to rehearsal. He was a perfect fit and has been with us ever since (2012).

We parted ways with our long time drummer Jeremy [Hemond] in November of 2016 when he moved back to Vermont. As might be expected, devoting time to the band had become an issue because of the distance. We decided to move on and look for another drummer. In a complete stroke of luck, Alexei came across an ad we placed and came down to audition. After trying out a handful of drummers who weren’t right for us, we knew Alexei was our guy from the first song. He fit right in and we all feel a renewed sense of purpose.

We’re really happy, looking forward to working on new material, and playing shows.

How did the writing process work out for The Depths Below? When did you start thinking about a follow-up for the self-titled and how did the material come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to do coming off the first album?

SO: The writing process worked pretty much the same way it always does, except for Alasdair contributing to the songs, and Matt having even more input this time around. We very rarely stop and say, “OK, it’s time to write for the new album.” Instead, we are always working on ideas whenever we have a chance or are feeling inspired. It’s a perpetual thing for us. Sometimes songs will come together rather quickly, such as “Johnny” from the self-titled. Other times we may have a couple of parts and not be able to finish the song. When that happens we tend to put that particular idea on the back burner and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes even years later. We work on a particular idea until we feel it’s finished, however long that takes. It’s not enough for us to throw a few riffs together and call it done. It’s important that a song has a flow and makes sense. We work democratically and listen to each other’s input and tweak parts until we are satisfied. We’re our own toughest critics.

Some of the material written shortly after the self-titled was in the process of being recorded. Some of the other ideas were fleshed out later on. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing thing.

When did you know that “Walk Through Fire,” “The Citadel” and “Blood of Heirs” would tie together? How did that come about, and what is the narrative uniting the songs?

SO: I’m going to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt Harrington: If I’m remembering correctly, “The Citadel” was the first song we completed of the three. “Walk Through Fire” is in a different tuning, but I must have heard it right before “The Citadel” on a practice recording because I remember really liking the way they led into one another. I also knew I wanted to tell a little more of the story when I finished “The Citadel,” which also plays into the lyrical why of “Blood of Heirs.”

“In the Shadows of Ancients” is a loose adaptation of a story I wrote. “Walk Through Fire” is the radicalization of the disenfranchised, “The Citadel” is the execution of the oath by the faithful with a little familial revenge thrown in, and “Blood of Heirs” is a homecoming of sorts with the backdrop of a battle.

How about the recording? Was the album done in one shot or over multiple sessions? It seems like there’s a more aggressive sound this time around. Was that something you were looking to bring out purposefully, or just how it worked out in the writing and production?

SO: We recorded the whole album with Benny Grotto. I give him major credit for understanding exactly what we wanted and helping us capture it in the recording. The album was recorded in a few different sessions. The basic tracks (drums, bass, and some guitars) were recorded at Q Division in Somerville, MA, in December of 2014. We recorded most of the rest of the rhythm guitar tracks at Mad Oak in Allston, MA. We finished up leads and vocals at Moontower (R.I.P.) in Somerville. The actual recording was finished in June of 2015. From there we mixed with Benny and sent it off for mastering to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering.

As for the more aggressive sound, I think partly it just had to do with some of the songs themselves. We’ve always listened to all sorts of music, and I know I tried to bring some more of my metallic influences to the forefront on a few songs. “Walk Through Fire” for example, was a song that had a bit of a NWOBHM feel to me when I came up with the main riff. “Blood of Heirs” has more of an oldschool thrash-metal-meets-Bathory sort of feel to the main riff. I know we made a conscious effort to have a lot of variation in tempo and feel. I’m sure that directly contributed to the genesis of those two songs. Aside from wanting a good amount of variety, there were no strict “rules.” We like to write riffs and songs we enjoy and try not to worry too much about something being a stylistic outlier or odd man out sort of thing. If we like it, we go with it.

What’s the story behind “Dead Channel?”

MH: I’ve always loved dystopias. I never expected to live in one, but that’s a whole other thing.

The name is a nod to the first line of William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk book, Neuromancer: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

That line drew a young me in instantly, and the visual is a favorite of mine. Pretty soon, someone who picks up that book for the first time won’t know what that is without checking Google, if they even bother to. Isn’t it sort of weird, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once that culture and technology change so completely and frequently now?

Lyrically, this song is a companion of sorts to “Poor and Devoid,” in that they both touch on the idea that we are both consumer and product everywhere we go physically and virtually, and what is presented to us (and sometimes what we present) isn’t always genuine or real.

I watched online communities go from USENET and dialing into BBSs to message boards/forums to where we stand now in both the more mainstream and less accessible parts of a vast internet. These communities have become global cultures and I think this sort of connection without boundaries or borders has power, both positive and negative. The optimist in me likes to think that interconnectivity, community, and freedom are ultimately a good thing.

Do we want to live in a dying world or die knowing we built something that lives on? Maybe we find a better us together, and find better ways to communicate and collaborate without the noise, ideologies, or agendas. Maybe we take a look at the old and say… you know what, it’s okay that isn’t a thing anymore. Maybe we decide to tear every last vestige of those old things down completely. Sometimes it takes weird, uncomfortable, and/or exciting to make something new. Nostalgia and fear shouldn’t prevent people from building things. My hope is that the new things we create are real and genuine and not born from the distractions that are all around us now.

You did the release show earlier this month for The Depths Below, so what’s next for you guys? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

SO: To be honest, there was a great sense of relief in releasing The Depths Below and playing the actual release show. The record had been a long time in the “gestation” period (which seems to be our pattern at this point), and it was our first Boston show with Alexei on drums. We wanted to pick up right where we left off and, at the same time, state our intent to continue progressing as a band. It was a packed house at our favorite club, with some of our favorite folks. We couldn’t have been happier.

As for what’s next, we’re working on new material, getting Alexei up to speed on some choice older tunes, and looking forward to the demo process for the new stuff. We’re already pretty booked up for the Fall with a bunch of regional shows. We also have a split 12″ in the works; that will hopefully be released late this year/early next year. We’re just looking to keep it rolling, wherever it takes us.

Our album is available from our Bandcamp page, or at shows.

Cortez, The Depths Below (2017)

Cortez on Thee Facebooks

Cortez website

Cortez on Bandcamp

Cortez on Twitter

Salt of the Earth Records website

Salt of the Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with The Quill (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Six Dumb Questions on August 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the quill

Time flies, and often in more than a single direction. 11 years ago, Swedish heavy rockers The Quill released In Triumph, what was then the victory lap around four prior successful classic-fueled blasts of rock and roll. The long-players Hooray! It’s a Deathtrip (2003), Voodoo Caravan (2002), Silver Haze (1999) and The Quill (1995) had established them as a powerhouse outfit in a crowded Swedish scene, with the megalungs of frontman Magnus Ekwall at the forefront over guitarist Christian Carlsson‘s riffing, given thrust and groove by bassist Roger Nilsson (who left in 2005) and drummer Jolle Atlagic to land in a place that was no less Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than it was contemporary to countrymen outfits like Mustasch, Dozer or The Awesome Machine.

It would be another five years before The Quill followed-up In Triumph with 2011’s Full Circle (discussed here), and when they did it would be without either Ekwall or Nilsson in the band. Carlsson and Atlagic‘s songwriting was intact, but the energy of the group was different, and even as they came “full circle,” they were on uncharted ground. The then-topical Tiger Blood followed in 2013 with Nilsson back in the group alongside vocalist Magz Arnar making his second appearance, and now The Quill return to thethe quill born from fire Silver Haze-era lineup with Born from Fire — a completely over-the-top, righteously unmanageable 66 minutes that’s just as much at home in the Motörheaddy thrust of “Snake Charmer Woman” as in the Sabbathian roll of “Keep it Together” and “Unchain Yourself,” the stomping “Skull and Bones” or tripped-out psych passages like “Set Free Black Crow” or the harmonized apex of “Hollow of Your Hand.”

It’s too bad they already called a record Full Circle, because otherwise, Born from Fire would certainly be a candidate for the title. It’s 12-track stretch finds The Quill rejuvenated and in top form of craft and performance. For not having appeared on a Quill album in more than a decade, Ekwall hasn’t missed a beat in reassuming his former role, and with over 30 years of experience behind them since their first demo, the band delivers crisp, professional-grade heavy rock. For not one minute of the hour-plus release are they anymore lost than they want to be, and whether it’s the nestled-in chug of “Ghosthorse,” the bass-heavy ultra-fuzz of “The Spirit and the Spark,” the swaggering hook of opener “Stone Believer” or the atmospheric epilogue in closer “Metamorphosis,” that command of their approach remains absolute. Whether a given listener is familiar with past offerings or not, Born from Fire lands with a sense of purpose and personality that only straightforward heavy rock at its most done-right could possibly muster. It is a blueprint not just for the best-case-scenario of reuniting with former members, but for the renewal of spirit that reunion can bring about at its most successful.

In the interview below, Ekwall talks about coming back to The Quill after his prolonged absence, how the writing and recording of Born from Fire came together, the band’s intent toward capturing the vibe of their earlier work and much more.

Born from Fire is out Aug. 25 on Metalville Records. Please enjoy the premiere of “The Spirit and the Spark” and the following Six Dumb Questions:

The Quill, “The Spirit and the Spark” (track premiere)

Six Dumb Questions with The Quill

Tell me about coming back to The Quill after so long away. It’s been more than a decade since In Triumph was released. How did rejoining come about? How does it feel to work with the band again? 

Actually, I am really surprised how easy it was to come back. Very natural, no hard feelings. This was not a planned reunion. It just happened. The guys asked me to join them for a local gig playing a bunch of old KISS songs, and when we rehearsed for this, we tried out a few old Quill tunes, of course. Someone had a new riff and suddenly the first new song was written. I believe it was “Set Free Black Crow.”

We just took up from where we ended when Roger left the band back in 2005 or something, no problem. You know, we are living in a small village and we have met several times over these 10 years I have been away from The Quill. Christian and I became friends like 40 years ago. So everything is great and the most important thing is we made an album that we really love otherwise this would never have happened.

What was your time like in the studio? Tell me about arranging vocals for the songs and putting together lyrics for these tracks. How was it stepping back into doing that again? Did you have any specific goals in mind for what you wanted to do vocally or what you wanted to bring to the material this time around?

The album is recorded in two different sessions in a studio close to where we live. I personally like to record fast, a lot of the vocals are first takes, just the way I like it, to keep the feeling right. Lyric-wise, I decided early on to write about stuff that has happened in my life, like an Ekwall biography, to make it easier for me to sink my teeth into writing. They became rather dark in the end. You find a few songs about death and people close to me that have died, in cancer and so on. Some songs, for example “Hollow of Your Hand,” are about my own anxiety and fear of life itself. There is also a few simple rock ´n´ roll lyrics like “Snake Charmer Woman” and “Electrical Son.” During these years away from the band I have written and recorded loads of stuff with both other people and by myself so I never been out of the process. Writing and recording is just a natural process for me.

We decided early on to try and get the same feeling we had when we wrote and recorded the Silver Haze album; just having a laugh, an easygoing atmosphere. Start from zero and just write without any plan. And it turned out very well, the 12 songs on the album are the 12 songs we first wrote, so there is no old leftover material from back in the days, just new, fresh songs. I personally think it sounds a bit like the old, innocent Quill back in the late ‘90s.

Did you find going into Born from Fire that the writing process changed at all from when you were last in The Quill? What was the timing on your coming back and the album being written? How did the tracks come together?

No, nothing has changed at all. As I said before, this was not at all planned from the start we just happened to write some songs we really liked and when you have done that you normally record them and that was just what we did. When the first session was over we decided to go for it!

Writing process is almost the same for every song. Chris or Jolle has a riff, I come up with the melodies and later the lyrics, we kind of do it together in our rehearsal studio. It almost never happens that somebody turns up with a whole song.

The album kind of spaces out after “Hollow of Your Hand,” gets more atmospheric toward the finish. What was the process like putting together the tracklisting and was there something particular you were looking for in terms of the overall flow?

We had a bit of a hard time deciding if Born from Fire should be a double or a single record. But in the end we used all of the recorded tracks and I personally think it was a good decision. Now you get the whole picture and the variety of our music. I like the spaced out songs, always did, I just love the way bands freaked out in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Looking back on the Quill catalogue I really dig songs like “Until Earth is Bitter Gone” and “Man Posed.”

You have to try and find some flow in the tracklisting but you also have to consider the length of the tracks but we are pleased and I really hope our old and new fans love it as much as we do.

Would you say that part of the intention of Born from Fire is to capture a vibe similar to records like Voodoo Caravan and Silver Haze? More of a classic heavy rock sound? Or was it not something the band really thought about during the writing and recording?

As I said before we tried to get back into the mood we had circa Silver Haze, no worries on what a future label would think about what we do or how to present ourselves, just an honest an breathtaking album from our hearts. The songs we wrote are the songs you hear on the album, nothing added, nothing taken away.

Any plans or closing words you want to mention?

Well, it is great to be able to be a part of The Quill once again, a band I spent so many years in, building up and created great albums with. I really wish from my heart that the honesty in Born from Fire really shines through.

The Quill on Thee Facebooks

The Quill on Twitter

The Quill website

Metalville Records on Thee Facebooks

Metalville Records on Twitter

Metalville Records website

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Six Dumb Questions with Demon Eye

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

demon-eye-photo-ken-trousdell

Over the course of three albums, North Carolinian four-piece Demon Eye have evolved a notably crisp, efficient and standout method of constructing memorable songs, and as it should, their latest offering marks the pinnacle of their achievement in this to-date. Out Aug. 11 via Soulseller Records, the 11-track Prophecies and Lies (review here) is the proverbial lean and mean execution of classic-influenced heavy rock given a modern aesthetic update. Marked out by the stylized dynamic between vocalist/guitarist Erik Sugg, lead guitarist Larry Burlison and the driving forward rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Paul Walz and drummer/vocalist Bill Eagen, Demon Eye‘s work stems from a core master plan dedicated to building an individualized sound around familiar structures, which is something neither easy to do nor often done as naturally as the Raleigh natives make it seem they’re doing it.

Veterans twice over of the Maryland Doom Fest and having earned a reputation for a particularly energetic delivery there and on just about every other stage they’ve taken, Demon Eye hit the studio this time around with founding Corrosion of Conformity bassist/vocalist Mike Dean at the helm. Dean‘s recordings often carry a distinct tonal sharpness, an edge that pervades the sound, and this suits the finished product of Prophecies and Lies in style and substance alike. Tempo shifts in cuts like “In the Spider’s Eye” and the engaging swing of “The Redeemer” are brought forth with underlying structural purpose as well as atmospheric breadth stemming not from self-indulgent meandering but from the tones, melodies and hooks that have become so much the staples of Demon Eye‘s approach.

Ahead of the release later this week, Sugg was kind enough to take some time out to discuss the band’s writing modus, their time in the studio with Dean, how Demon Eye feel about what they’ve accomplished three records into their ongoing tenure and more. Their release show for Prophecies and Lies takes place in Raleigh, NC, on Aug. 18 with Captain Beyond. More info on that can be found on the Thee Facebooks event page.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

demon eye prophecies and lies

When did the writing process start for Prophecies and Lies? Tell me about how the songs came together. Was there anything in particular you were looking to accomplish coming off of Leave the Light?

Generally most of our riffing is done individually. The classic, “dudes playing guitar alone in their bedrooms”-deal. But for the process with this album, one standout memory was when we were driving up to New England for a fest performance. Along the way we stayed in a Super 8 somewhere in Maryland and wrote a lot of ideas right there in the hotel room. Most of what was written that night ended up being what you hear on the record. Somewhere I still have the complimentary Super 8 notepad with all of the ideas written out. They have hilarious working titles, like “Erik’s Spidery Riff in D,” “Uncle Larry’s Acid in E,” “Voivod in G,” etc.

In terms of trying new things from the previous records, we wanted to try different dynamics with the music, like changing things rhythmically and structurally, while also making sure it still sounded like a Demon Eye record. We didn’t want people to listen to the new album and go, “Oh, this is their prog record.” For the first album there were a lot of occult/witchcraft themes. As the main songwriter for the band, that’s something I wanted to steer from. I enjoy that sort of thing and probably always will, but I didn’t want to pigeonhole us as being just another band who does that sort of thing.

Songwriting is always the element of Demon Eye’s work that strikes me the most. Do you have a specific approach to putting pieces together to make songs, or a general guiding philosophy for structure? Demon Eye sound like a modern band, but would you agree your songwriting might be the most classic element of what you do?

I would agree, yes. With our songs we basically just try to keep it simple and let things flow naturally. Most of our songs end up being the traditional verse/chorus/verse format. I tend to follow the philosophy of, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke?” Most of my favorite rock bands and heavy metal bands growing up did it like that. Songs like “Paranoid” and “The Prisoner” were more or less pop songs, simply by sticking to that format. Heavy pop songs, sure, but they had great hooks, powerful riffs, and well-crafted music that stayed with you and made you want to listen to them over and over again.

On the flipside of that philosophy I also love bands who write 10-20 minute epics. YOB, Sleep, and Electric Wizard are three of my favorite bands. I love their music dearly, but writing music in that style is not something I could do well. If Demon Eye ever tried to release a song like “Marrow” or “Holy Mountain” it would probably come off sounding forced and inauthentic. Maybe not, but it’s definitely not my particular comfort zone. I think it’s important to know your strengths. I believe our strengths are in the riffs, the melodies, and the basic song structures.

How was your time in the studio with Mike Dean? What is he like to work with as a producer, and what was behind your decision to have him work on the record? How long were you in the studio and what was the recording process like? What was the vibe as the album came together?

It was a total blast recording with Mike. He’s a hilarious guy with lots of energy and he works like a mad scientist. He’ll run around feeling completely inspired by one thing, then stop and shout, “Wait! Don’t do that! Forget that! Let’s try something else!” Mike’s a good friend so the vibe was very laid back. Just friends having a good time making music together. I think the overall timeline for the record, including mixing and mastering, was September of 2016 through January of 2017. Because Mike is very busy, and everyone in Demon Eye has so many different “life” obligations, we took our time and scheduled sessions pretty sporadically.

Prophecies and Lies is the third Demon Eye album. How do you feel about everything the band has been able to accomplish up to this point in your career? How do you feel about the audience you’ve been able to build and the response you’ve gotten live and to the three records?

Not to sound like a Pollyanna, but I am immensely grateful for all that we have. Our fanbase, the positive reviews, the opportunities we’ve been granted, the incredible people and bands we’ve had the chance to meet, etc. All of it. The thing with Demon Eye is that, in the beginning, we had zero intentions of doing anything outside of writing a few tunes and playing locally on occasion in front of like 20 of our friends. That was all we envisioned.

When our initial demo was recorded and put online, and then all the Internet activity and positive response came about (not to mention the record deal offer), we barely had time to process all of it. We were like, “Huh? This is really happening?!” It was very humbling. Sure, there’s more we’d like to do (like playing overseas and playing bigger fests), but we’re not the kind of guys who get bummed over what’s not happening. We are happy and grateful for what we do have, and it’s actually quite a lot. I look forward to doing more of what we’re doing now. More records, more performances, and meeting more amazing people.

Let’s talk lyrics. As a lyricist, do you see yourself more as telling a story or describing a theme? How much of Demon Eye’s lyrics are metaphors for real-world issues? You’ve delved into some pretty dark territory over the course of the albums. What has this allowed you to express, and how important do you feel the lyrics are to Demon Eye’s overall aesthetic?

It’s funny, because when I listen to my favorite bands the lyrics are typically the last thing I pay attention to. But with Demon Eye, I do take the lyrics seriously and feel they are important. For the last few records I have found myself focusing more on real-world issues.

If you play in a band that prefers darker song content, there is no shortage of material in the world today. Some days I’ll simply read the news and see what sort of madness is happening politically in this country. Sometimes I’ll find myself opening my perspective and seeing the evils that innocent people across the globe are forced to endure.

I used to work with children, and it was pretty sobering meeting a young mother who recently fled Syria with her two young daughters, only to arrive in America in time for a proposed ban on immigration. Those types of situations really make me think about the darker side of human nature and how it affects people who don’t deserve it.

Also, I don’t really talk about it much in interviews, but I’ve also dealt with a lot of mental illness and substance abuse issues in my life. After putting a lot of care into my health throughout the past decade (sobriety, lifestyle changes, etc.), it’s granted me the opportunity to explore things with a fresher perspective, and naturally, songwriting provides you with the chance to express yourself.

One thing I always try to do, though, is to make Demon Eye’s song content as universal as I possibly can. I try to think, “Now what would someone want to raise their fist and shout along to?” It may not always come out as intended, but it is something I strive for.

Demon Eye toured the West Coast in 2016 and has played Maryand Doom Fest two years in a row now Any plans, shows coming up or other closing words you want to mention?

Our record release show for Prophecies and Lies will be on Aug. 18 at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh, NC, with Captain Beyond. We are honored to celebrate the release of this album with such a legendary band. During the latter part of the year we are planning on heading throughout the Midwest again, and we also want to hit the Northeast and make our way south throughout Texas. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s support and hope that we have the chance to meet all of you in person!

Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies (2017)

Demon Eye on Thee Facebooks

Demon Eye on Bandcamp

Demon Eye website

Soulseller Records website

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Six Dumb Questions with Beastmaker

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on August 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

beastmaker-photo-ken-trousdell

Since the release in May of Fresno, California-based three-piece Beastmaker‘s second album, Inside the Skull (review here), the dark-rocking classic metal/heavy rock outfit has embarked on a cross-country tour with Zakk Sabbath and announced a return trip to Europe for this Fall alongside Ukrainian heavyweights Stoned Jesus. This more or less continues a campaign with a mind toward sonic dominance that began when Rise Above issued their 2016 debut, Lusus Naturae (review here), and helped to set forth a momentum that seems to still be building in force.

With the stated intention of an overall increase in tonal heft and percussive impact, Inside the Skull finds the self-recording trio led by guitarist/vocalist Trevor William Church (also of Haunt) straddling several genre lines atop a solidified core of aesthetic and songcraft. Cuts like opener “Evil One,” the doomly “Of God’s Creation,” the swinging “Psychic Visions” and the bruisingly distorted “Night Bird” excel in bringing forth structural and stylistic nuance while remaining memorable. Are they cult rock? Garage doom? Classic metal? Bleak heavy rock? Beastmaker — Church, bassist John Tucker and drummer Andres Alejandro Saldate — pull elements from all of the above and set them to work in a context of crisp, efficient execution. Inside the Skull has its twists and turns, but what it doesn’t have is a wasted moment.

In light of where they’ve been, what they’ve been able to accomplish in a relatively short three-year tenure, the fact that they built their own studio to record Inside the Skull and have already started work on their next full-length, it seemed a perfect time to hit up Church to talk about where Beastmaker are headed and what the future might bring. The run with Zakk Sabbath had brought them to the biggest stages of their career so far, so that future, despite their overarching darkness, never seemed so bright.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

beastmaker inside the skull

Six Dumb Questions with Beastmaker

Tell me about writing Inside the Skull. When did the songs start to come together? Was there anything in particular you wanted to accomplish in songwriting? Anything you wanted to change or do differently from the first album?

I started writing Inside the Skull during the recording of our debut album, Lusus Naturae. I was really inspired at the time and songs and lyrical ideas were flowing. I had the idea of in order to live forever you had to live it alone and we just thought that would be a fitting title for the new album. We wanted to accomplish a heavier sound for Skull. When I’m writing songs I just let them happen. It has to be very organic for me, meaning I sit in my studio and roll up a joint and just start playing. I don’t know any other way at this point. Once Andy and John come in and play the song we know if it’s a keeper or not. We tested the songs on our tour with Blood Ceremony in Europe. As far as changes from Lusus Naturae, we just wanted a heavier production. We did Lusus Naturae with a minimal production approach. We wanted to keep it rough. This time around we wanted to do the same approach but give it a much heavier mastering treatment.

What was it like to build your own studio? Tell me about the recording process. What were the lessons you were able to take from Lusus Naturae and how do you feel about the results? Are you someone who can listen to his own record?

Well in building a studio it’s more about acquiring the equipment. With Lusus, we didn’t have as much gear. Our microphone collection wasn’t what it is now. Oddly we settled on using a Gretsch Jazz kit for the recording of Lusus, which in turn we decided never to do that again. It really amazes me we achieved the sounds we got with an 18” kick drum. But with how people reacted to the You Must Sin EP, we just wanted to keep moving with that sound at the time. So first thing we did for Inside the Skull was we bought a different drum set for the recording. We are pleased with how much heavier the drums came out. I love recording – it’s my favorite part of being a musician. The creation. So yeah I listen to my own music constantly. It’s the only way to improve on your songs and find little discoveries on how to improve the song you are working on. In retrospect now after its release we’ve already mapped out all the changes for album three.

You did plenty of time on the road for Lusus Naturae and your schedule has already been and looks packed in the months to come for Inside the Skull. How important was it for you to road-test your material before the album came out? Is how a song will translate live a factor when you’re writing?

We try and throw new material in the mix as soon as we can. We just got off the road with Zakk Sabbath and there where songs we had never played live before on that tour. So we always have to see what songs the crowed responds to the most and play it by ear. Again, we like a natural approach to things. Whatever is feeling right at the moment.

What was it like being on tour with Zakk Sabbath? How was that experience for you as a band? What were the shows like, how was the audience response, and how did that compare to some of the other touring you’ve done so far?

Going on tour with Zakk was like going to college. I think I can speak for the whole band when I say we learned a lot on where our weaknesses were and how to improve. The venues were the largest we had ever played and on a bigger stage you have to relearn how you play live. Being an opener is always a challenge. Most of the people there had never heard us before so we had to give them a good first impression. But when you look out in the crowd and you are wondering, “are people into this?” and by the end of the set they are screaming for you, I think we did our job. In comparison to other tours this was a very organized tour. We went on stage at 9PM sharp, set was over 9:40 sharp every night. It actually was really nice because on some other tours some of the shows have little to no organization and you can get in to your hotel or floor space quite late. We got into our hotels no later than 1AM every night. That was nice because generally it’s more like 2:30 or 3AM.

You’ve done videos already for “Evil One” and “Nature of the Damned.” How did you select those songs? How important do you feel it is to convey a visual representation of the band? Will you do more clips for Inside the Skull going forward?

This was actually Andy’s department. I had a really hard time communicating with what my own vision was. So, it was the first time I really let something leave my hands. Andy chose the tracks we would use and he oversaw it and got the job done. I think on the video side of things we have a lot of work to get what we really want and it’s very important to try and connect the dots. You might see some more videos for Skull. You might not. Hard to say at this point, really.

You head to Europe this Fall with Stoned Jesus. What are you most looking forward to about touring abroad again? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I’m looking forward to seeing all the people we met last year and to show them Inside the Skull in its live format. Also, just like our last European tour they will be hearing brand new songs for album three. So that is exciting for us. It may only be one song but maybe that one song will rotate with the 20 we’ve been learning at the moment. We want to thank all of our fans and people that have bought our records posted pictures on Instagram, etc. Also we want to thank Rise Above Records for putting out our music. Cheers.

Beastmaker, “Evil One” official video

Beastmaker, “Nature of the Damned” official video

Beastmaker on Thee Facebooks

Beastmaker on Bandcamp

Rise Above Records website

Rise Above Records on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with Tim Granda of Planet of Doom

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tim granda

As Riff Lodge Animation was making the first announcements about what its animated film, The Planet of Doom, would entail in the process of partnering different artists and bands with each other to tell an overarching narrative written by David Paul Seymour and animated/directed by Tim Granda, it was obvious it would be a significant undertaking. That has proven to be the case even when one factors in the successful Kickstarter campaign launched to fund the endeavor, and with no fewer than 17 bands and 12 graphic artists locked in to participate — plus more to be announced — it’s an achievement even in the making in terms of the logistics and coordination involved on the part of Seymour and Granda.

The Planet of Doom stands in the tradition of music-driven animated tales like Heavy Metal, telling a tale wound around warriors and revenge and motorcycles in space, and so on. With an accompanying soundtrack set to feature Wo Fat, Orchid, Cirith Ungol, Slomatics, Mos Generator, Elephant Tree, Slow Season, Phillip Cope (ex-Kylesa), Vokonis, Messa, Mother Crone, the just-confirmed Space Witch, as well as Destroyer of Light, Order of the Owl, Ironweed and Granda himself, one anticipates it will lack nothing for heft, and as both Granda and Seymour will design their own chapters along with Skinner, Adam Burke, Alexis Ziritt, Jason Cruz, Burney, Simon Berndt, Brian Profilio, Maarten Donders, Gorgeous George and Forrest Cavacco, there’s no less visual scope involved than audio. It’s a massive, comprehensive project.

Accordingly, it’s going to be a while before it comes together. Still, Granda was kind enough to take some time out recently to discuss where he and Seymour are in the film’s making, how the idea and screenplay came about, some of the details of the plot, what’s involved in bringing bands and artists together, music as a storytelling vehicle and more. You can find the complete Q&A, along with some screen grabs of the work in progress and a test animation of The Planet of Doom‘s opening, below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

THE PLANET OF DOOM LOGO

Six Dumb Questions with Tim Granda of Riff Lodge Animation & The Planet of Doom

How did The Planet of Doom come about? What inspired you to take up a project of this magnitude? How much was Heavy Metal an inspiration?

When David Paul Seymour left his 9 to 5 job to strike out on his own, I half-jokingly mentioned to him that we now had time to make an animated movie. To my surprise, he was thrilled with the idea, and from there we had many conversations about what we’d like to do. David had written a story a while back that we thought would be perfect to build a film around, and after a few tweaks, like moving the location from Asia to Europe, we were off and running.

The film Heavy Metal was a big inspiration to us. We’ve been huge fans of both the film and magazine ever since we were kids. When the magazine shared the news of our Kickstarter last year we were beyond stoked.

In addition to Heavy Metal, there were a lot of films from that era that made an impression on us. Stuff like Fantastic Planet and Gandahar by René Laloux, and just about everything by Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, American Pop, Wizards). All of these films proved that animation can be more than just kids’ fare. Unfortunately, the medium has become soft and cute again, so it would be awesome if this film could help usher in a new wave of animation aimed at adults.

Tell me about the process of picking and coordinating with different artists to get them involved. Frankly, it sounds like a nightmare from a logistical standpoint. Do different bands require different styles of art?

When we we’re starting out, it was decided that David would come up with a list of bands to reach out to while I’d focus on the artists. There ended up being some crossover, but that’s the general approach we took. The majority of folks we reached out to jumped at the chance to come onboard, and we were thrilled at the level of enthusiasm we were seeing for the project. It all came together really fast, much quicker than David and I anticipated.

Initially, we’d let folks pick the chapter that interested them, but as time went on, we did some reshuffling with the matchups to bring folks together who’d really nail a specific section of the story. Grouping Maarten Donders with Messa was one of them, as was Gorgeous George and Slow Season. In the end, I think we struck a killer balance of calculated moves and “happy accidents,” where a band/artist combo came together by chance that was better than what we could’ve imagined.

Is there an overarching story to the film or is it vignettes? Can you talk about some of what we can expect in terms of plot?

The film is your classic revenge tale, in which our hero, Halvar, sets out to defeat the deadly beast Mördvél for the slaying of his bride. While the roots of this type of story go back to ancient myths and fables, we feel it’s the film’s presentation that will make it unique.

One of the things we loved about Heavy Metal was the format. We really dug how the style of art changed from one sequence to the next, as if you were reading an issue of their magazine. But rather than use a plot device like the “Loc-Nar” to tie a series of unrelated segments together, we wanted to stick to one story that’s split up into a series of chapters, with each being told by a different band and artist.

An idea I had from the start was not to use any dialogue, and instead let the bands tell the story through their lyrics, sharing the task of narrator, more or less. The process generally went like this: each band was given only a brief description of their chapter by David so they’d have the freedom to add to the story as they saw fit. From there, I’d expand upon the lyrics and David’s outline by writing lots of additional scenes in a detailed, shot-by-shot screenplay that’s timed to the music. This would then be passed along to the band’s artist to create a storyboard from.

What issues have you come up against in making the film? How have you dealt with setbacks or these challenges?

Though it’s been a year since the launch of our Kickstarter, we couldn’t start production until we knew we had the funds to pay everybody. After the Kickstarter was successful, bands were given the green light to start writing their original music. As you can imagine, that’s not something that happens overnight. Bands might be touring, or taking some time off, but ultimately, they would all need to find the time to get together and write then book a studio. We also had some bands and artists who bailed, and a few that we had to let go, so that slows down the process too. Ultimately, it all worked out for the best because we couldn’t be more stoked with the talent we have working on the film.

Fortunately, nearly all the music has now been turned in. Screenplays have gone out to their respective artists, and we’ve approved quite a few storyboards from them already. Right now I’m animating the chapter featuring musician Phillip Cope and artist Skinner, and after that I’ll be moving on to David’s and Mos Generator’s. Approved art is coming in all the time so I’ll be jumping from one spot in the film to the next as stuff comes in.

What’s the timeline on completion? How much is left to do?

I’m hoping to have the film done by the end of 2018, which is going to be quite an undertaking since I’m the only animator. The artists in the film are only supplying me with a stack of drawings; they won’t be the ones animating their work. It’s my job to cut up all the art into thousands of pieces and bring it all to life. The process is long and laborious, so while we’re shooting for 2018, it may come in later than that.

The Planet of Doom website

The Planet of Doom on Thee Facebooks

The Planet of Doom on Instagram

The Planet of Doom at IMDB

Riff Lodge Animation webstore

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Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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Six Dumb Questions with The Midnight Ghost Train

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the midnight ghost train

There’s always been a certain restlessness in The Midnight Ghost Train. Definitely anyone who’s ever seen them play live would concur, but even beyond their gripping, kinetic performances, whether it was early lineup changes, moving from Buffalo, New York, to Topeka, Kansas, or touring as incessantly as they have for the better part of the last decade — they’ve been a band on “go” for about as long as they’ve been a band.

At the same time, their material has followed a steady trajectory up to this point. From their 2008 The Johnny Boy EP (review here) through the subsequent ’09 self-titled long-play debut (review here), 2012’s Buffalo (review here) and their first outing for Napalm Records in 2015’s Cold was the Ground (review here), the power trio led by founding guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss have developed along a path blending supercharged heavy rock and roll with classic blues vibes and rhythms. With his distinct, gruff vocals as a hallmark of their approach, the propulsive, classy drum work of Brandon Burghart as a core to build from and the final piece added in bassist Mike BoyneThe Midnight Ghost Train became one of the most immediately identifiable bands in the US heavy underground. When you were listening to The Midnight Ghost Train, you knew who was on. Every time.

That’s still the case, but the scope of what that means has changed, and the restlessness that’s always been at play elsewhere seems to have extended itself to their creative process more now than ever before. To wit, their fourth full-length and second for Napalm is Cypress Ave. (review here), and while it largely holds firm to the underlying energy of the band and never feels staid, it also marks a special moment in that Moss and company seem more willing to take chances in the songwriting, to pull back on the aforementioned “go” in favor of a more diverse sonic take. Whether that’s showing itself in the drifting “Lemon Trees,” the funk-fortified “The Boogie Down” (with guest rapper Sonny Cheeba) or the acoustic “Break My Love,” it’s representative of a level of maturity previously unknown from The Midnight Ghost Train, and it makes Cypress Ave. their most fully realized and their boldest offering to-date.

It’s the kind of record that, if you thought you knew the band — as I did — can make you rethink your expectations. In the interview that follows, Moss talks about how some of the twists in the plot came about, how touring has shaped the group over the longer term of their time together, where Cypress Ave. actually is, and more. As I happen to know him to be a longtime Yankees fan, I couldn’t resist throwing in a question about baseball as well, and I thank him for the indulgence.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

the-midnight-ghost-train-cypress-ave

Six Dumb Questions with The Midnight Ghost Train

Talk to me about writing Cypress Ave. At what point coming off of Cold was the Ground did you know you wanted to do something different with The Midnight Ghost Train, and how did that come to fruition in the songwriting? Was it something conscious or something that you noticed later in the material? What was behind the shift in direction?

We have wanted to get out of doing the crazy fast heavy stuff way before Cold was the Ground. None of us actually enjoy listening to heavy music. It’s fun to play, but that’s really our only connection with music as heavy as we used to play. We could have very easily written another Cold was the Ground without even thinking twice. That’s why we have defaulted to such heavy music for our previous albums, it was really easy to write, and fun to play live, plus we had already built a following of people in the heavy music genre, so it just made sense to keep riding that wave and keep the fans we had. For this album we wanted to challenge ourselves artistically, and challenge our audience. We wanted to do something that felt right to us, and not necessarily what the following we have built wanted or expected. There was no reason for us to make the same album over and over again, especially since it didn’t feel right to us. So it was time to say goodbye and move on to something more challenging, and unexpected for our fans. Plus, we wanted to branch out to a wider fanbase than just the “stoner rock” fans. We never really felt like we fit in that group anyways so it just made sense to do something that was more us. Plus, the songs on this album are just a hell of a lot better than our previous stuff.

Tell me about Cypress Avenue itself. Where is it? What is it like? Set the scene for those of us who’ve never been there. What was behind the choice to name the album after it?

Cypress Ave. is a stop on the 6 train in the Bronx, it’s a small local neighborhood, no attractions or anything like that, just an area for the locals. My family is from Parkchester which is a few stops more uptown, so we would pass Cypress Ave. on our way up to Parkchester. Since this album is so different musically we decided to go a different route with the album photos, and the title than usual. All of our albums have had that Midwestern, Kansas, country, feel to them, which actually only one of us (our drummer) is from Kansas. So instead we decided to go more personal to mine and my family’s upbringing in the Bronx. Give people a look at where I’m actually from. So we wanted to keep with the Bronx theme throughout the album. Since Parkchester is kind of a lame album title, we basically just went through all the names of the subway stops in the Bronx, and Cypress Ave. was just the best sounding one. Plus, it reminded me of the Van Morrison song off of one of my favorite albums, Astral Weeks, (although it’s spelled differently).

The Midnight Ghost Train turns 10 next year and you’ve put in so much time on the road over the last decade. How do you think touring has shaped the band? How do you feel it has worked to develop the chemistry between you, Mike and Brandon?

Aigh god, that seems like a lot longer than it feels. Feels like we’re still just getting started. Touring has definitely been the most rewarding part to this band. Despite all the bullshit and hard times we have gone through, when we step on stage it makes it all worthwhile. We have always believed that the live show is the most important expression of who a band is, and we have worked tirelessly on always making our show better. What better way to learn about the stage that we love so much than touring as much as possible? Touring has definitely made us realize who we are as a band and what we feel is most important to the existence of TMGT. Getting on stage is the only piece that no matter what always feels like the right choice to make. Bands that don’t play a lot of shows can’t ever find their true musical selves. Plus, if you never do it how could you possibly be that good at it?

How did “The Boogie Down” come about?

Very simply, I love hip-hop, and our bass player and drummer love to play funk. So we decided to mix the two together. The riff that the bass player and drummer play in that song is what they have always done on stage when my amp or pedalboard breaks and I have to fix shit. They would just break out into a funk jam, then when I got back up and running I would chime in. It was always fun to do live, so we decided to record it. Sonny Cheeba (the artist on that track) is also a Bronx native. I grew up listening to his group Camp Lo. So it was awesome to get to work with him in the studio. We recorded the album in Athens, GA, and he happened to be living in Atlanta at the time we recorded, so it just worked out nicely. We let him do his thing, while we did ours, it was fun to mix the two styles, and challenging for us. Something new and fun to do. Why not?

What was your time in the studio like making the album? It seems like you specifically varied the guitar tone more throughout the songs this time around. How important was it for you for Cypress Ave. to show multiple sides of the band?

Oh yes, different sounds on all the instruments as well as vocally, was very important for this album. The tones and vocals we used for Cold was the Ground or Buffalo would not work for these songs. I used probably 30 different amps throughout this album, plus I added a Gibson 335 to my arsenal, which was my main guitar on this album, instead of the Les Pauls I [have] normally used. Our previous albums just had one tone through the entire album: HEAVY. This album is just so dynamic throughout the record, with so many different style songs. Not one song sounds the same, so we wanted to make sure that neither did the instruments.

You’ve got the US tour coming up in August and September. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Oh yes, we will also be touring the USA in October as well. We’re in the works of putting together a European tour which will be from the end of January through March. So keep an eye out for tour dates, ‘cause we’re going everywhere. Might even be paying a visit to South America, if things pan out. Our album is available for preorder right now at our website www.themidnightghosttrain.com. Enjoy the new album, I know we do.

Bonus question (asked before the Major League Baseball All-Star break): Do you think the Yankees actually have a shot at the division? Boston’s been coming on strong. Is the NYY collapse of the last couple weeks the true face of the team or just a temporary injury setback? What do you think of Judge and Sanchez in the Home Run Derby?

Absolutely they still have a chance, they have been plagued with injuries lately which is inevitable but still costly when you lose guys like Castro, Bird, Holliday, Hicks, Warren, and Sabbathia (who was on a fantastic roll). Boston is making a big push, they have great starting pitching, but hopefully at the trade deadline we get rid of Chris Carter and get someone like Eric Hosmer at first base, and pick up one more locked starter, because we can’t rely on Tanaka’s inconsistency to bring us the entire way. I’m stoked to see what Judge and Sanchez do, I think they will be fine, and they are good enough hitters that the myth of screwing up their swing won’t affect them. Judge is going to be the Rookie of the year, AL MVP, and triple crown winner. He’s taking it all. I haven’t seen the city buzz on anyone since Derek Jeter breaking in. Loving it.

The Midnight Ghost Train, “The Watchers Nest” lyric video

The Midnight Ghost Train on Thee Facebooks

The Midnight Ghost Train website

The Midnight Ghost Train on Twitter

The Midnight Ghost Train on Instagram

Napalm Records website

Napalm Records on Thee Facebooks

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Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

arduini balich

When I finally got to sit with it and give the respectful listen it deserved, I had the most powerful oh-shit-this-is-the-real-deal moment with Arduini / Balich‘s Dawn of Ages (review here) that I’ve have with any single record in 2017. Released by Cruz del Sur Music, the 78-minute full-length is rife with an energy born of classic and progressive metal, and while it earns immediate interest owing to the pedigree of its core duo of vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich (formerly of Penance, currently of Argus) and guitarist/composer Victor Arduini (formerly of Fates Warning and Freedoms Reign, currently of Entierro), it’s the poise and righteousness of the six originals and three bonus covers that make Dawn of Ages stand among 2017’s finest debuts and finest albums overall.

Granted, it’s an undertaking with the aforementioned 2LP runtime — even without the covers it tops an hour — but to listen to extended pieces like “The Wraith” (13:44) and “Beyond the Barricade” (17:27), one finds Arduini / Balich capturing the essence of a place somewhere between progressive and power metal, the Connecticut-based guitarist and Pennsylvania-based vocalist, as well as drummer Chris Judge (a bandmate of Arduini‘s in Freedoms Reign), bringing out highlight performances as crisp in their execution as they are complex in their construction as they are worthy of a neck-breaking headbang session on “Forever Fade.” There are flashes of traditional doom throughout “Into Exile,” opener “The Fallen” and the brief instrumental “The Gates of Acheron,” but while that darker side of the metal spectrum is acknowledged in a take on Black Sabbath‘s “After All (The Dead),” that cover is no less an appropriate inclusion on Dawn of Ages than Uriah Heep‘s “Sunrise” or The Beau Brummels‘ “Wolf of Velvet Fortune” in emphasizing the vast swath of ground Arduini / Balich traverse across their original material.

In terms of composition, recording process and the potential for Arduini / Balich to continue forward as an ongoing project, there was a lot of fodder for discussion here, and fortunately, Victor Arduini was happy to oblige, even going to far as to address each of the questions-within-the-questions individually, taking on the whole thing and leaving nothing out. That effort is deeply appreciated, to be sure, and as I dig in once again to Dawn of Ages (which you’ll also find streaming at the bottom of this post) for what I suspect won’t nearly be the last time, it’s great to know that at some point in the future there just might be a sophomore outing to come.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

arduini balich dawn of ages

Six Dumb Questions with Arduini / Balich

Tell me how the Arduini / Balich project got started. What was the impetus behind writing these songs? How did they come together and when did Butch and Chris become involved? What was it you wanted to do differently coming off of Freedoms Reign?

I began writing new music towards the end of Freedoms Reign’s promotional tour. I was already moving on emotionally from what that band was about and had my “10 seconds as a singer” out of my system. I just wanted to get back to playing guitar and focusing on creating some riffs that would challenge me as a guitarist and musician. I told the guys I was going to do a solo-project where I could allow myself the freedom to produce an album where I could be free to let my ideas breath without any restrictions.

It was all an emotional connection to the music I was getting back into after some years away from my roots in Fates. With social media, YouTube and internet radio, I was like a sponge soaking up so much new music that I didn’t know existed. I was becoming inspired by learning there were so many great bands and artists out there still putting out some very cool music.

I would come up with riffs at home and present them to Chris to see how he would interpret them. Usually we would jam on them and other ideas would naturally follow. We spent about six months working stuff out and Chris was able to put down his drum tracks to the basic structure. I spent the next year writing and recording all the guitars and creating layer upon layer of music that transformed the songs into what became the music for the album. I found it difficult to find a singer who had the right voice and wound be into the music I created.

I originally was going to have a singer from Brazil but found it too difficult to work out. Brian and I knew each other from doing some shows together and he literally reached out the day I let the other singer go. We talked and he was really into the music I shared. It took some time with our schedules but Brian took the songs one by one and wrote some incredible lyrics along with some very emotional and power vocals which I think are the best he’s ever done.

I wanted to create music that spoke from my soul without worry or restrictions to style, length or sound. I knew it would be heavy and dark and as Chris and I worked them out it became progressive as well with the different time signatures and complexity of the arrangements.

What was the timeline like from start to finish on Dawn of Ages? How long were you recording the songs and how were they pieced together? How much did the material develop in the studio as opposed to being plotted out beforehand?

It took a little over two years from start to finish. There were times it had to be put on hold which helped me relook at things and make adjustments along the way. I don’t think it would have been as complex if it was completed sooner as I ended up adding a lot of ideas when there was nothing else to do with it.

The demo phase lasted about six months where I’d take home the ideas from rehearsal and piece things together until we had a rough structure from start to finish. Chris did his drum tracks pretty quickly but from there it was over a year of layering various sounds, solos, etc. “The Wraith”’s drums are actually from a rehearsal which I was able to piece together and utilize for the final album.

[The material developed in the studio] Quite a bit. I mean I’d create riffs which became the structure but from there I had no idea of all the layers that would end up over it. There were many nights of just messing around and every so often some magic would come out of it. Some stuff I still don’t know where it came from. I guess that’s a blessing from being in a creative moment which I’ve always admired from The Beatles in their later recordings.

Talk about self-producing in this new context. How was your working relationship with Nick Bellmore? How did it compare to your time in the studio with Entierro or Freedoms Reign?

To me [self-producing] was what made the album so personal. I took the time to work out the arrangements and trying out different sounds, approaches and ideas get what was in my head onto tape. I love working in my studio and would try out all kinds of mixes and reevaluating until I was happy. Producing your own music works if you have a strong idea of what you want from it and you don’t care to please anyone but yourself. Making music is a passion and having the ability to put together such a project was very special and rewarding to me.

Nick is so good at what he does. As a drummer he helped me get some great tracks down and always could create the sound and mood I was looking for. I did just about all the guitars at home including the sounds I wanted but he always was there as an extra ear and helped me ensure it was always sonically as good as it could be. He is just a great guy and teaches me along the way which ends up helping us both do bigger and better things together. Nick actually played drums on “Forever Fade,” and two of the bonus tracks, “Sunrise” and “After All (The Dead).”

When I recorded with FR it was the typical format of everyone laying down their individual tracks as they had worked them out for rehearsal. With A/B, it was mostly experimentation with no restrictions. I could make any decision without running it by others which is why one is called a band and this was a true solo-project.

Tell me about writing “Beyond the Barricade.”

That song took on a life of its own. There was no previous idea of writing such an epic. I just took the song piece by piece and it seemed to build upon itself at rehearsal. Week after week we would jam what we had and new riffs and ideas flowed which we always got onto tape. I’d take it home and work stuff out maybe writing something new and when we played again it just kept evolving. The cool thing is we were able to play the basic structure from start to finish. It was just all the layers and sounds which took it to another level. Again I was at a creative peak during that time and it was easier than you’d think.

What was behind the decision to include the three covers, and how were each of those tracks chosen?

We had the opportunity to do a 2LP vinyl but when laying it out we really had three sides so Brian and I started throwing ideas out to cover. “Sunrise” was something I wanted to do since I saw Brian earlier in the year and heard him sing to it in his car. “After All” was something I always felt Brian could nail and I love playing Sabbath. Brian brought “Wolf” to my attention and I was mesmerized by its beauty and ode to the trippy ‘60s vibe. It was one of the toughest songs to interpret and record.

Will you do more as Arduini / Balich? Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

I think so. Brian and I are very proud of this album and thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it and working together which is first and foremost why we do it. We’ve discussed doing the next one which I hope will happen but there’s no timeline. What I enjoyed most about doing this one was the natural creativity that inspired it and the joy of its process. I became so emotionally attached to it and I need some time to move away for a bit. I just don’t want to force anything and would like to come back to it all when I feel there’s something new to say. Most likely by early next year I’ll messing around and we’ll go from there.

I just want to say to anyone who’s checked it out how thankful I am that you did so and appreciate your support and interest. We were both pretty floored by the response and it’s cool when someone breaks it down and you can tell they really listened and got what we were trying to achieve. Thanks so much.

Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages (2017)

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