All ages show.
Deafheaven is a California-based act that has garnered acclaim for their signature hybrid sound of black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock. On October 2 the band will release their next album New Bermuda on ANTI-.
George Clarke (vocals), Kerry McCoy (guitar), Dan Tracy (drums), Stephen Lee Clark (bass), and Shiv Mehra (guitar) recorded New Bermuda live to tape at 25th Street Recording in Oakland, CA and Atomic Garden Recording in East Palo Alto, CA in April 2015. It was produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Jack Shirley who has worked with the band on their previous releases. Clarke says that he came up with the idea of “New Bermuda” to describe a new destination in life, a nebulous point of arrival, and an unknown future where things get swallowed up and dragged into darkness. The album artwork for New Bermuda is an oil painting, dense in brush strokes of darker tones and deep blues, by Allison Schulnik. The layout was designed by art director Nick Steinhardt.
Formed in 2010 in San Francisco, California, the band has released two studio albums on Deathwish; Roads to Judah in 2011 and their lauded Sunbather in 2013. Sunbather received accolades from NPR on their Favorite Albums of 2013 list, a coveted Best New Music at Pitchfork, the Best Metal Album of 2013 per Rolling Stone, a 9/10 star review from Decibel Magazine, and it was the highest rated album of 2013 according to Metacritic. Deafheaven have spent the last two years touring extensively nationally and around the world with shows in Australia, Japan, Asia, Europe, Russia, the UK, and Canada with festival appearances at Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, Primavera, Roskilde, Fun Fun Fun, FYF Fest, SXSW, Basilica Sound Scape 14, Corona Capital, ATP Iceland, amongst others. Deafheaven will perform August 8 at Heavy Montreal in Canada. Details on a forthcoming North American tour are soon to be announced.
Baroness’ triumphant new album contains some of the biggest, brightest and most glorious riffs and choruses the adventurous rock group has ever recorded. But its title, Purple, also reflects a dark moment in the group’s recent history: the terrifying bus crash they survived while on tour in 2012. “The band suffered a gigantic bruise,” singer-guitarist John Baizley says of the accident. “It was an injury that prevented us from operating in a normal way for quite some time. Hopefully, this record is the springboard that helps us get away from all that.”
The album, which is due out December 18 and which producer Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney) helmed, covers the gamut of emotions Baroness have experienced in recent years and serves as their victory cry. Purple finds a revamped lineup of the band – Baizley and Pete Adams (guitar, vocals) and new additions Nick Jost (bass, keyboards) and Sebastian Thomson (drums) – playing 10 intricately textured tunes and singing about the worry they felt immediately after the crash (“If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)”), the struggle to recover as smoothly as possible (“Chlorine & Wine”) and their ongoing quest for survival (“The Iron Bell”). From its bulldozing opener “Morningstar” to the avant-garde 17-second closer “Crossroads of Infinity,” the record is at once both their most emotionally threadbare and musically complex offering to date, with passages that allude to their classic-rock roots as much as their crushing metal past.
“We didn’t want to make a mellow, sad, dark thing,” Adams says. “We needed to be up-tempo. We needed to be melodic, and it also needed to be aggressive. In all of that, I think we were able to get out everything we felt, all of the emotion involved, everything from being angry to wanting to continue to push forward.”
Baroness formed in 2003, slugging it out in their local Savannah, Georgia scene while adhering to a DIY punk ethic, booking their own tours and silk-screening their own shirts. In 2007, they put out their critically acclaimed debut, the sludgy, guitar-banging Red Album, which heavy-metal magazine Revolver named Album of the Year. They followed it up two years later with the heavier Blue Record, extreme-metal magazine Decibel’s Album of the Year. But it was on their last release, the 2012 double-album Yellow & Green, where they really opened up, exploring a slightly lighter touch with more accessible vocals and alt-rock arrangements, leading to a Top 30 chart debut in the U.S. and Spin declaring it the “Metal Album of the Year.” Unfortunately, the group would not be fully able to enjoy Yellow & Green’s success and accolades.
In August 2012, less than a month after Yellow & Green came out, Baroness were on tour driving in England when their bus broke through a guardrail on a viaduct near Bath and plummeted nearly 30 feet to the ground below. Through some miracle, none of the nine passengers died, though Baizley broke his left arm and left leg and the group’s rhythm section at the time, bassist Matt Maggioni and Allen Blickle, both suffered fractured vertebrae.
“I was lying in my bunk when the brakes went out, and I knew immediately once we picked up speed that we were going to crash, period,” recalls Adams, an Army vet who went through the equivalent of a bus crash a day while fighting in Iraq and who earned a Purple Heart in combat. “I didn’t tense up. I didn’t brace myself. I just rolled over in my bunk and said a few peaceful words to myself and hung in there, because I was like, ‘Here we go. If it this is it, then make it quick.’ I felt like a shoe in a dryer. Next thing you know, it’s over and I’m standing there, and I was not broken. I was burned, I was cut, I was bleeding, I was dazed, but I was OK. And I collected myself and started helping people out. But I absolutely thought the band would be over.”
Baizley spent two-and-a-half weeks immobile in a hospital and then months to recover from his injuries, but when he did, he and Adams decided to keep the group going. “I spoke to James Hetfield, who has also dealt with the fallout from a bus-related accident, and he said, “Life is going to be difficult for a while; but you’ll be fine. You’ve got this,'” he says. “And once I had done some physical therapy and played guitar again, I thought, ‘Yes, I’ve got this. It’s not over.'”
Looking back on it now, Hetfield was right, and now Baroness’ members feel like they’ve gotten through the worst of it. “While we realize the accident is obviously of interest, we have gone over that particular story’s details at length over the past few years,” Baizley says. “We feel that this album not only addresses but puts a punctuation mark on that story. Baroness existed before the accident and will continue to exist, and we’d rather talk about what we’ve created with Purple than let one side-story overtake or define who we are as a band.”
Once Baizley was ready to get moving again, the first matter at hand was to find a rhythm section, since Maggioni and Blickle had both split amicably with the group. To find the right people, Baizley leaned on some famous friends for advice. Eventually, Baizley spoke to Mastodon’s Brann Dailor, who pointed him in the right direction to finding the group’s new drummer, Trans Am member Sebastian Thomson, to help build up the band again. “We didn’t try out anyone else,” Baizley says. Another friend suggested that they check out someone whom she described as being the best player she’d ever heard. That turned out to be Nick Jost, who not only played both the upright bass and bass guitar, but was also a skilled piano player with a degree in jazz composition.
With a new lineup in place, the group eventually embarked on lengthy trek that Baizley describes as a “thank you tour,” to the fans who stood by the band in its darkest hour, in the spring of 2013. Other than a handful of Australian gigs in 2014, Baroness spent the time since then getting ready for their next chapter, setting up their own indie label, Abraxan Hymns, and writing songs for Purple.
“I wanted to celebrate my misery through my creativity and face it head on,” Baizley says of the LP. “The lyrics on Purple are about the different paths that formed in the fallout of the crash, from very direct stories about difficult moments of suffering to the love I feel for people who were there for me.”
When the group finally got to work out the tunes in the studio, they did so with a producer whom Baizley has always been eager to work with: Dave Fridmann. “He’s been on the top of my list since Day One,” the singer says. “I never thought he’d work with us. I absolutely worship his recordings.” With 25 years of experience mapping out Wayne Coyne’s intricate flights of audial fancy on Flaming Lips records and making the most of bands generally known for understatement like Low and Spoon, the producer helped the group construct a sonic habitat for all of Purple’s unique sounds, including acoustic guitar, otherworldly keyboard and echoes galore. He also helped them make the most of themselves.
“We’re a very analytical band,” Adams says. “We’ll write something and overanalyze it to the point where we feel we’ve edited the songs as much as they could be, and Fridmann threw ideas at us that we’d never thought about before. We needed that outside ear.”
But Purple is perhaps most notable for serving as a vehicle for Baizley and Adams to move on, and welcome Jost and Thomson to the fold. “They are both very talented musicians,” Adams says. “They’re open to new ideas and you can rely on them.”
“They said, ‘We just want to make sure it kicks ass,'” Baizley recalls. “That’s what I needed. I was in a pretty bleak spot when we weren’t playing. And when I realized that Pete, Nick and Sebastian were excited – and I hadn’t felt that unified amount of excitement before – it pushed us into saying, ‘We’ve got this.'”
“The whole process was very smooth,” Thomson says. “The only thing that required a little bit of work was learning how to write together. That took us a month or two to figure out, but once we did we got on a roll.”
“I made a mistake and hit the wrong chord at the end of a run through of ‘If I Have to Wake Up’ and out of that mistake we wrote ‘Fugue,'” Jost says. “That shows how we grew. And then ‘If I Have to Wake Up’ shows just how far we came.”
“We had a situation where a band had to rebuild itself with half-new members and an almost entirely new crew,” Thomson says. “On paper that sounds like a possible recipe for disaster, but we all clicked almost immediately. We still have that attitude to this day.”
Adams says only recently, since the group has gotten back on the road, he thinks that Baroness has felt like a band again. And now with Purple under their belts, Baroness are ready to take on the world. “There’s a lot more playfulness now,” Adams says. “Everyone now is positive, there’s no heavy bullshit. People are laughing and smiling more now in Baroness than I’ve ever seen. That’s real, and I’m thankful for that.” The bruise is beginning to heal.
Zeal & Ardor
By now, Zeal & Ardor’s performance at Roadburn 2017 has become the stuff of legends, the kind of thing you had to be there for (or were gutted to have missed)—but it almost didn’t happen.
The sound blew out twice during the 50 minutes Zeal & Ardor was allotted, leaving SwissAmerican bandleader Manuel Gagneux and his backing musicians to troubleshoot as best they could on a silent stage facing hundreds of expectant faces. After the PA had sputtered out for the second time, Gagneux turned to the audience, his slight frame and clouds of black hair silhouetted against the blue lights and mounds of gear, an apologetic grin upon his face. Then, up from the crowd, came a ragged handful of voices, singing the chorus to the chillsinducing title track for his breakout album in unison: ”Devil is fine.” He leaned forward, and answered them—”Little one better heed my warning”—in that booming, bluesy voice of his, and the audience finished the couplet for him. He sang back the next line, and back came the thunderous chorus, rising from several hundred throats.
That call-and-response only lasted a few seconds, but its impact reverberated through the rest of the festival. Word of mouth is crucial for a band like Zeal & Ardor—a bedroom project-turned-juggernaut that rose to hyped-up prominence in a matter of months and is sustained by fan interest instead of major label machinery—and those 50 minutes in that church cemented the band’s reputation as The Next Big Thing in Metal.
“Having such a potentially devastating moment turn into such a supportive one is only a testament to the crowd of that festival,” Gagneux demurs, selling himself a bit short as is his habit. Lest we forget, Gagneux possesses an incredibly powerful, versatile voice, as well as a thoroughly original sound and the chops to pull it all together seamlessly. At the main event, despite all the setbacks and pre-show jitters, Gagneux and his crew did just fine, and really, it shouldn’t have come as any big surprise.
After all, he’s got the Devil on his side.
Like nearly everything else about Zeal & Ardor, Gagneux’s discovery of his remarkable vocal style was a happy accident. His approach to songwriting now isn’t quite as unorthodox as it was in the beginning, when he was idly whipping up joke songs to appease his fellow music nerds (and to mess with trolls) on online cesspool 4Chan’s music board. As a result of a racist comment, he stumbled onto a winning combination: a purposefully unholy conflagration of African-American spirituals, chain gangs songs, the blues, and Satanic black metal that drew lines between Scandinavia and the Delta, summoning both the blasphemous evils of the North and the bloodstained history of the South. Radicalis Records in Switzerland offered to release the project’s debut full-length, Devil Is Fine, in 2016 (with the Netherlands’ Reflections Records handling a limited vinyl release), and things snowballed from there.
“I think there’s a connection between the two [genres]; it’s a form of rebellion,” he said back in July 2016. “Even if slave music isn’t exactly defiant, it’s still like the triumph of the will of the people. I think there are parallels with, say, Christianity being forced upon both the Norwegians and the American slaves, and I kind of wondered what would’ve happened if slaves would’ve rebelled in a similar fashion to Burzum or Darkthrone.”
Since the release of his breakthrough album, Devil Is Fine, he has been the subject of much attention in the metal world, ranging from fawning praise to damning grumbles about trends and “fake” metal. As a biracial Swiss-American—born to a white Swiss father and black American mother—he falls so far outside the narrow profile of a stereotypical black metal musician that he’s even been accused of “appropriating” black metal, which is even funnier when one considers where all heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll came from in the first goddamn place: black musicians.
The past year has been a whirlwind for Gagneux and his band, with invitations to play massive festivals like Reading and Leeds colliding with offers to open for Prophets of Rage and Marilyn Manson. He’s assembled a crack music industry team of high-octane publicists and booking agents who coordinate with his manager and record labels MVKA in Brighton, UK and Radicalis in Basel, Switzerland, who have helped guide him through the pitfalls of unexpected stardom. Zeal & Ardor made its debut North American appearance at Psycho Las Vegas 2017, with a short run of tour dates tacked on, including a NYC date at heavy metal haven Saint Vitus. Now, he’s preparing to take Zeal & Ardor on the road.
“This year is mainly going to be us touring and me writing where I find the time to do so,” he explains. “We get to play festivals that we couldn’t afford to go to, so all in all that’s pretty goshdarn neat.We haven’t toured extensively yet, only had legs of 4 to 7 days, so we’re trying to get accustomed to the thought of the vagabond lifestyle. I, for one, am very excited.”
With everything he’s been juggling, it’s a mystery how Gagneux had time to get down to the business of writing and recording his next album—but, he pulled it off, and the result, Stranger Fruit, is a tour de force in the making.
“I try not to have an audience in my head, because I think that’s what made the first record mean something. For Stranger Fruit, the thought was to have the two elements contrast each other, but also have them homogeneous at times,” he explains of the album’s genrehopping. “There was more leaning into the extremes of the two genres this time, so at times there is a greater discrepancy and at times they congeal in interesting ways. I wouldn’t say it was hard, it’s the most interesting part of making this music, but it did take a lot of trial and error as well as iteration to get it to a point that I liked.”
“I did the writing myself, but had producer Zebo Adam help me out with guitar sounds, micing etc. the only other musician on the record is Marco von Almen who also provides his drumming to the live band. Finally Kurt Ballou mixed the record and unsurprisingly did a stellar job at it.”
Stranger Fruit, is a masterful blend of the darkest Delta blues, soaring gospel, and icestorms of blackened metal. On this album, Gagneux has refined his genre-spanning sound into an utterly cohesive signature, one that transitions seamlessly between its elements and embraces even more outside influences, electronic and organic alike. Devil Is Fine was a welcome surprise, but Stranger Fruit is a full-fledged manifesto, down to the provocative title that recalls jazz icon Billie Holiday’s unforgettable, smokey tribute to the Black lives stolen on Southern soil. On Stranger Fruit, Zeal & Ardor has found its soul.
Though Gagneux says he hates the word “responsibility,” now that his work is so wellknown, he’s been forced to reexamine it through a different prism, and to understand how it fits into the conversations about race and culture and metal and how they all intersect that Devil Is Fine sparked.
“It’s not a bad outcome,” he mused. “I’ll put it this way: if this had happened five years ago, I don’t think I would have had the experience to approach it the right way. [Now], if that’s what I get to do, I should do it, but I have to do it in the right way. That’s why I have to think about what I stand for. I can’t afford to fuck up—people actually listen to me now.”
“Black metal is very protective of their culture, because it used to be a dear and secretive thing,” he says, a faint smile curling his lip. “Now it’s in the open to a certain degree. It used to be the most aggressive and extreme thing, [but] it isn’t anymore. It has to evolve—and I don’t know how exactly—but we should fucking try at least.”
That commitment to change is something, at least—a glimmer of light in a world that so often intentionally plunges itself into darkness.