Originally written by Ian Chainey
We often dissect how something sounds without really imparting how it feels. Sure, sometimes, that’s all the music asks of us. In most genres, you can get away with clinical observations, you can slice the tune-meat pretty thinly without desecrating the miracle of creativity. Those strawman songs have forms which can be found, cataloged, and regurgitated for those fishing for streams. Not hating, just saying: One could write a line regarding meter and have it act as a diagram. Again, that’s totally okay. Some tracks demand only that.
Death metal, though? Tends to run contrary. Sprints, even. And, let’s be be clear, we’re not bee-essin’ about the modern death metal making room in its album art layout for a UPC code. No, we’re whispering, lest vengeful angels hear us, regarding the cobwebbed rot festering in the catacombs; the murky madness mauled by worms; and the sulfuric-smelling demons demanding sacrificial down-payments. We’re aiming our sights at the kind of nastiness picking locked musical definitions, the indescribable stuff which can only be categorized by your physical reaction.
Shroud of the Heretic, essentially.
Oh, right. One would suppose, given the theme, it’s time to do instead of say. So, let’s cede the floor to whatever feeling this elicits:
What’s rising from the pit in your gut? Euphoria? Nausea? Both?
You do see what we mean, yeah? This Portland trio’s debut full-length is an in-person type deal, preferably if the ‘in’ refers to ‘in front of a deafening sound system.’ This killer needs to be cranked. That’s the only way to truly understand the brain-rending bludgeoning of a booming doomer such as “Illuminism.” Sure, you could type up its objective as an incantation for a dead congregation of ancient elder sloths haunting the dreams of H.P. You could also draw bloodlines back to the related Symptom, Sempiternal Dusk, and Dead Cult. Yet, both boxes fail to properly encapsulate that feeling, the downtuned boot to the belly which makes one utter a Tom G. grunt. Roll without ’em, then. The fewer veils in front of your face, the better, in this case. Why? You’ll need your senses unobstructed to properly tap into Revelation in Alchemy‘s abyss.
Of course we had to know more. We got in touch with Shroud of the Heretic’s JT. We asked five questions, he gave us five answers.
We’re always interested in origin stories, so how did Shroud of the Heretic come together? Did you cross paths at shows or shops? Shared influences? And, once your current lineup solidified, how did you know it was going to work? Was there a moment when everything clicked?
It’s actually kind of an interesting story about our current lineup. After the dissolution of my previous band I knew was going to be moving to Portland in a few months, so I wrote a general request in a musicians’ sections of well-known classified website to state my intentions, and attempt to connect with some like-minded musicians after moving. It turns out that one of the people who responded was a previous member of Shroud of the Heretic, looking for members for a side project band. At the time, I hadn’t heard of Shroud at all, and I told him I’d be in touch when I arrived in Portland.
So the very day I moved into my new place, minutes after I’d gotten everything packed in, I got an email from the same guy again. He had completely forgotten about our initial interaction, and was inquiring about bands in the area to set shows up with. So I responded with something like “My band has broken up, but do you remember our previous conversation about collaborating on a music project?” and as luck had it, Shroud of the Heretic was seeking a guitarist. It was incredibly fortunate for me, and after I sat in on a practice and listened to the Boiled to Death demo, I was blown away.
There’s more to the story as well. After about a year, our drummer and other guitarist were no longer in the band. It was just Thom and me looking for a new drummer and trying to figure out exactly what we wanted out of the band. It was a unique opportunity to formulate new concepts and ideas, and really find out what Shroud of the Heretic needed to become. When we ended up finding current drummer – Lauren – I immediately recognized her as another one of the people who had responded to my bulletin post that I’d made, probably 2 years prior at that point.
As far as a ‘moment’ where everything clicked, it was after the initial period of our new lineup. For lack of anything else to do, we kept rehearsing songs from Boiled to Death for a while and even did a couple of shows on that material. It just didn’t feel genuine though, and we we’re anxious to start writing our own material. When the songs that would become Revelations in Alchemy started forming… that’s when it clicked.
I guess the reason we’re curious regarding your formation is that your newest album, Revelations in Alchemy, feels so seamless, in a way. You hit these sections that blast off and it sounds like a single slithering organism instead of a centipede. Is this due to an innate, indescribable chemistry? Or, were the rough edges sanded down by constant practice?
Well, the recording process for Revelations actually took place over the course of probably 4 days. A lot of the songs are actually first takes, and all of them but one are one-takes. We recorded live (sans second guitar and vocals), and all the mixing was done from the board, so the recordings were never touched by digital equipment until the process of putting them on a CD. This was equally because we wanted to maintain a certain level of integrity, and because we self-funded and didn’t have much of a recording budget.
If the album sounds seamless, it’s because we made sure to spend as much time rehearsing as possible, to minimize the amount of time we needed to spend in-studio. I’ve heard of a lot of bands getting creative and trying out ideas while recording as well, and it was just never a consideration or possibility for us. We’d been playing the material for probably a year by the time we recorded, and the songs had already had time to settle into their selves, if that makes sense. We also write all of our material in a rehearsal setting, so tempo changes and dynamic shifts tend to happen in a more primitive type of way rather than structural.
Another takeaway from Revelations is its perceived loudness. The guitar tone just seems to slash through one’s eardrums, no matter the volume. It has that kicked-in-the-gut grit, a quality a coworker used to describe as, “…how I know it’s real death metal.” What’s your reaction when playing these songs and what is it about death metal that draws your towards its kind of clatter?
That’s a huge compliment, thank you! I have to credit Mike Stanioch, who recorded the album for the volume and tone we achieved. He just has this amazing understanding of capturing sound. He listened to us and knew immediately how the record needed to sound, which was great because we didn’t have to spend hours frustrated, trying to find the right tone with listening fatigue.
Apart from that, Thom’s insistence that the album wasn’t loud enough throughout the process, was a big contributor to the final product. It was important to us for the record to sound big and enveloping, because that’s how we sound live. In fact, we were having a conversation as a band recently about auditory hallucination while rehearsing. There are parts of our songs where a riff will drone on so loudly and with such dissonance, that you can get really entranced and hear things in the wall-of-sound that aren’t actually happening. To me, that type of thing is important to our songs, and while we are incredibly happy with Revelations, these elements aren’t well represented on the record. At this point it’s only something we’ve only been able to project live, but we are currently working on ways to capture those aspects on recording next time.
Many metalheads make the case death metal lyrics don’t matter since the delivery isn’t conducive to comprehensibility. Yet, we’d contest well-written lyrics still infuse a song with an immutable energy and tend to influence performance, whether this is perceptible to an audience or not. On which side would you fall? And, is there a particular line that seems to kick things up a notch by its utterance?
I don’t think it’s really a side versus side thing at all. I’d argue that it’s just a case of different levels of appreciation and/or enjoyment. There are plenty of bands that sing in languages I don’t understand that I still really enjoy, and plenty of bands that don’t have printed lyrics available (and unintelligible vocal delivery) that I still consider favorites. On the other hand, when you get lyrics that you can connect with either personally or intellectually, you are allowed a deeper connection to the music itself. It becomes more than just a listening experience, much in the same way that the visual representation of a record can influence the way you experience it (for better or for worse).
As far as the lyrics their selves lending energy to the music, I don’t quite agree. I think that the energy and the lyrics don’t influence each other, but are born from the same place, and therefore resemble each other. As a band, it is important to us to maintain cohesion across the audible, visual, and intellectual aspects, but none of those aspects influence each other. Rather they are all influenced by the same source, and resemble each other intuitively.
Outside of music, what dominates your interests? Do you have day jobs or have you been able to turn music into a full time concern? If the former, do you find music to be a necessary outlet or is it the end goal? If the latter, is there ever a feeling of intense pressure to succeed or does the art always justify the struggle? What would you tell a kid who just picked up an instrument and wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Outside of the band, we are all involved in other musical outlets, studying, working, or any combination of the three. We are an unreasonably busy trio of individuals. At this point, it’s not possible for music to be a full time concern (our band’s music anyway. Personally I am always preoccupied with music). We each have reasonable notions about being in this band as well.
“Success” is an incredibly subjective word, and our music has a very limited appeal. We understand this and are comfortable with it. Even the most commercially successful, universally appealing death metal comes with a limited audience. That said, and I don’t mean to sound too sentimental, I feel like we have reached ascending levels of success. The first time I received an email from a label inquiring about a record release, I felt light-headed. It as a completely new experience. The first time I held a Revelations LP in my hands, that was more success than any of us sought when we decided to play death metal.