Napalm Flesh: Spellcaster Interview

Posted December 1, 2011 in
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Welcome to another edition of Napalm Flesh. This week we have an interview with Portland’s Spellcaster, one of the bands spearheading the renaissance of traditional metal in the Pacific Northwest. We also have this week’s event rundown as well as exclusive reviews of the new releases from Animals as Leaders, Czar, Satan’s Host, Sunn 0)), and Vektor.

Tonight, check out Dead Vessel, Prosthetic Heads, Salvation is Calling and Ritual of Terror at Burts. $5 gets you in, music at 8 p.m.

On Saturday, December 3, Raunch Records hosts Full of Hell and Heartless with local support from Adipocere. Music gets underway at 7 p.m., and make sure to bring some money for the touring bands.

Also Saturday, Club Sound hosts a Sub for Santa benfit show featuring Gaza, Dismantled, Collapse, Beyond This Flesh, Outlet and Icebreaker. $13 gets you in and goes straight to benefit the Sub for Santa program. Doors at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, Burt’s Tiki Lounge hosts a slew of the nice grinding stuff with Buried at Birth, Behold the Kingdom, Graverobber, All Systems Fail, Burn Your World and Drag Me Under. $6 for six bands.

Wednesday December 7, Saviours return to Salt Lake City with Ramming Speed and local support from Oldtimer and Top Dead Celebrity at Burts, $10 to get in, music underway at 8 p.m.

Spellcaster interview
Revitalizing the Pacific Northwest tradition of '80s metal bands, Portland's Spellcaster claims it is only the spearhead of a rapidly emerging heavy metal renaissance. Their self-financed tours and dedication to the true essence of metal has garnered them significant attention, and from the first moment I heard the chorus of “Chainsaw Champion,” I was unable to get it out of my head. Spellcaster sounds like true heavy metal at its fastest and finest, fitting somewhere between Thundersteel-era Riot and the driving heaviness of Raven's early career. At their Salt Lake show on November 19, Raunch surged with headbanging fans—an intimate record store setting that seemed a perfect fit for their nostalgic style. Supported by local metal gods CastleAxe and Visigoth, Spellcaster's set electrified the gathered masses, holding the entire audience under their spell. After the show, I sat down with Gabe Franco, Shad Covert, and Cory Boyd to talk about their tour, future plans, and origins.

SLUG: How's the tour been going so far?
Gabe Franco: Actually pretty good. This is our fifth show I think we've played in the last nine days. We went down the west coast, and Portland was cool, you know, we've got our local fanbase there. We headed down to Bedford, we've actually never played there before. My mom lives there, so we stayed with her and shit, but the crowd there was actually pretty cool, a lot of people showed up. Oakland—
Shad Covert: Oakland was great.
Franco: Yeah.
Covert: We got a buddy named Steve, he's in a band called Midnight Chaser, who was also out there touring, and they're really fun, really good live. And they're really cool guys. We met him on our last tour, and this time around we ended up staying with him. That guy knows how to party, the band is good.
Franco: Yeah, gotta give a shameless promotion to Midnight Chaser there. Those guys kick ass.

SLUG: Any plans for a bigger tour in the future?
Franco: Yeah, I mean eventually. We want to do a lot more of these west coast ones, in the next coming months, and then maybe if we could hook up with some other bands, we could go on a U.S. tour.
Cory Boyd: The main idea behind it is, we want to get a solid fanbase in the whole U.S. but start small with small areas, instead of trying to do the U.S. tour the whole time. Do the west coast over and over, and once we build that solid fanbase, move maybe over to the midwest, and the east coast. Then we do a big tour.

SLUG: That's a pretty smart idea. Tonight you were asking for a five dollar cover to pay for your travel expenses. Do you guys usually finance your own tours?
Covert: Yeah. (laughs) We go to work, save up the money, and everyone goes, “Oh, shit, we got enough money, let's go!” Then we hit the road.
Franco: The tours are definitely still costing us. But that's, of course, with the hope that it'll pay off.
Covert: And it seems like, in the end, it's always worth it, because we always end up havin' a blast.

SLUG: Does it seem like the crowds are getting bigger?
Boyd: This time, definitely.
Covert: It was cool, this time, seeing return faces, and people showing up wearing the shirt, you know? Seeing people who got an impression the last time they saw us, and decided to show up again.
Boyd: And last time we toured, we didn't have [Under the Spell] out. All we had was that five-song EP, and one shirt.
Franco: We were pretty much completely unknown. Every time we went somewhere, it was like, hopefully there was an opening band that had followed through and gotten people to show up. There were three shows on that tour where there was just like, nobody.
Boyd: In Chicago, they canceled it. Nobody showed up.
Franco: One guy did! One guy with a Death Angel t-shirt and his girlfriend came up and was like, “No show?” And we told him, “Sorry man, no show. Nobody showed up.” And he was like, “Awww.”

SLUG: When did you guys first get approached by Heavy Artillery?
Franco: April 12th of 2010.
SLUG: Wow, that's pretty specific.
Franco: It was such a badass day! I got excited, super excited.
Covert: That was when I was living with you, too!
Franco: I remember we got a call from somebody, it was either Tyler or Cory, and they were like, “Hey, we got an email from Heavy Artillery” and then we spent two months jacking off trying to figure out the contract with this retarded manager we got for no reason. He was just dumb.
Covert: Yeah, he played himself up, but he didn't understand the idea of it. He was just doing things for us that we can do on our own. But we were paying him for it. You know, with all the money that we have and shit?
Franco: Yeah, and once that shit blew over we signed with them like June 12th. I think it was like two months to the day.

SLUG: How's working with the Heavy Artillery crew? Have they been pretty supportive of you guys?
Franco: Yeah. It's mostly just a few guys, I think
Boyd: Yeah, it's a small group. It's a really small label. I mean, for how small they are, they do a really good job, and every band they've signed so far has been solid. They don't put out bullshit like a lot of labels do. They put our stuff out, they get it out all over here and Europe. How much more could you ask for?

SLUG: Yeah, I was surprised to hear your full length had only come out in 2011, because it seems like a lot of people have already been listening to it.
Boyd: Yeah, Dave, the head guy over [at Heavy Artillery] has been saying the new album has been doing pretty good overseas in Europe. I guess they sold out of first pressings and CDs, and they're already printing more.

SLUG: How was the experience of recording your Spells of Speed EP different from recording Under the Spell?
Franco: Shorter, for one. It's also a little more exciting. I guess since it's our first EP, we were excited to just get that first thing out and just listen to it. We spent hours just listening to it and going “Oh, did we do something wrong, there?”
Boyd: It was nice taking our time on the full-length and fixing things. With the EP, we were, you know, completely fucking broke. We didn't have a lot of studio time. This time we could actually sit there and get things to sound right.
Covert: With the EP, we got in there and did our thing and then just left it to the engineers, who just kind of did everything else. We don't like that. We want our shit to sound the way we wanted to hear it. Not have to have some guy, you know, do it for us.

SLUG: You guys are carrying on the legacy of true Pacific Northwest heavy metal. Spellcaster has been compared to bands like Sanctuary and Malice. What are your thoughts on that?
Franco: It's fucking crazy, 'cause a few years ago, there was no true metal. There were all these scene bands, like hardcore bands and emo bands. They were everywhere! I remember I was in high school and playing shows with an old band, all there was, was just emo bands everywhere. Over the past few years, slowly but surely, I'm like, “Wait, where did all the emo bands go?” I haven't seen, like, one in the past year. And then there's all these metal bands popping up that I see high school kids starting. They're like, “hey dude, check out our fuckin' thrash metal band,” and we play shows with them. It's cool that kids are actually getting into it.
Boyd: There were a bunch of metalcore bands in Portland a few years ago, and all of them gave up, because nobody wants to hear that shit anymore over there. They're just old, it's burnt out.

SLUG: Cory, you and Shad used to be in a band together before Spellcaster, right?
Covert: [Gabe] was, too. That was Final Awakening. At that point, me and [Cory] went off to start something, and [Gabe] started his thing. We're pretty much the same band with different music, add a bass player and a singer.
Tyler Loney: I just thought I'd do it cuz, I dunno, I thought it'd be fun. I don't really like these guys at all.
Franco: (laughs) It's crazy because, I didn't really even think about ever wanting to play music until I saw these guys' bands live for the first time. That's why I started my band. And I didn't even plan on playing bass! I wanted to sing, and then my bassist quit so I started playing bass and then they're like, “Hey Gabe, wanna play bass for us?” So it's totally fucking random how that all came together.

Blog exclusive CD reviews

Animals as Leaders
Prosthetic Records
Street: 11.08
Animals as Leaders = Cloudkicker + Meshuggah + maudlin of the Well
Tosin Abasi constantly toes the line between jazzy, experimental prog and technical groove metal. With acrobatic guitars and a constantly shifting tempo, the appeal of Weightless lies in Abasi's strangely hypnotic melodies and consistent sense of rhythm. His solos run wild all over the undulating rhythm of Javier Reyes' guitar, and Navene Koperwies' drumming leaves nothing to be desired, firing off rapid drum fills without missing a beat. The whole package reminds me of the better and more memorable aspects of Toby Driver's work with maudlin of the Well, specifically their 2001 Bath album. Which is to say, intense, thought-provoking, jazz-inspired metal.
-Henry Glasheen

Vertical Mass Grave
Street: 12.06
Czar = Acumen Nation + Helmet + Mastodon + Yakuza
After a couple playthroughs of this debut full-length from Chicago’s Czar, I found myself scratching my head trying to find some familiarity in the bands sound, mostly the vocals. After finally reading through the band’s bio I realized the vocalist/guitarist/bassist is none other than Jason Novak, notably of Acumen Nation. In my early teens in the decade of the nineties I would get my hands on any metal or hard edged rock that had an industrial side to it, and Acumen Nation was a welcome discovery for me and I always found the band to be far underrated. This one is a great album for many disconcerting tastes to close out 2011: it’s accessible, heavy and most importantly catchy. The songwriting to Vertical Mass Grave feels fluid and is definitely a record that delivers mass satisfaction from a full-album standpoint as well as its individual tracks. Czar traverses punchy and heavy hooks intermingled with intriguing electronic samples on songs like “Family Crest,” “Blodeuwedd,” and “Writhe,” to speedier essentials rife with purposeful angst like the blazing “Scarless” and “Tubman Gutleter,” all cut with melodic guitar parts peppering the rocking with atmospheres unique to Czar alone. All of it culminates to an album with atmospheres and styles that fling the mediocrity of followers and lost leaders hard up against the wall. -Bryer Wharton

Satan's Host
Moribund Records
Celebration for the Love of Satan
Street: 11.21
Satan's Host = Mercyful Fate + Jag Panzer + The Chasm
If you like your death metal with mighty clean vocals, then look no further. After a two decade absence from the band, vocalist Harry "Tyrant" Conklin has returned to Satan's Host with an infernal vengeance. Beginning with their early roots in traditional heavy metal sorcery and on into their middle period of uncompromising death metal, Satan's Host re-recorded at least one song from every full-length and EP released during their 25 year reign. If that doesn't grab you, then new tracks "For the Love of Satan" and "Convictions" will. With Conklin's sizzling vocals and top-notch production, Celebration for the Love of Satan is more than just a compilation, it's a taste of Satan's Host as it could have been. -Henry Glasheen

Sunn 0)))
ØØ Void
Southern Lord
Street: 11.22
Sunn 0))) = Sunn 0)))
Though not initially released on Southern Lord (ØØ Void was initially handled by Hydra Head and Rise Above), the label is practically Sunn 0))’s spiritual home now, and everyone’s grateful to see such a vital hunk of the band’s output back in action. To describe Sunn 0)))’s monolithic roar to the layman is a bit like describing the taste of plain ramen…it’s difficult to verbalize and full of nuance (OK, so the ramen analogy drops off there). Words like “ambient,” “drone” and “doom” tend to get thrown into the mix, but it’s best to throw yourself into the swirling chasm of sound itself and experience it first-hand. Down-tuned and indescribably huge, ØØ Void puts the band’s “power-ambient” credential in play, upping the production from The Grimrobe Demos considerable and focusing on the swirling, circuitous crawl that would come to synonymize the band for years to come and really re-invent the shape and spectrum of heavy sound. I’ll curb it here and suggest you invest in a solid pair of headphones, sit alone in the dark, listen to “Ra At Dusk” and “Richard” a few times, and see what kind of cosmic truths you come to…and even if you don’t, that one record-store bloggist douchebag with a beard and a Kylesa shirt is gonna tell you all about it anyway. F’real though. Cop it. Beautiful packaging. Landmark album. Southern Lord Re-ish. You know what’s up. –Dylan Chadwick

Outer Isolation
Heavy Artillery Records
Street: 11.22
Vektor = Aura Noir + Coroner + Voivod
Toning down the wild, ambling guitars of 2009's Black Future, Vektor's new album is tight, precise and focused. Outer Isolation's tracks start off with heavy mid-tempo prog passages, only to explode into technical high-speed thrash with dissonant, spacey melodies. The title track sounds like the soundtrack to a classic science fiction story, complete with disturbing twists, energetic pacing, and a sense of loneliness among the stars. In keeping with its the album's cosmic theme, the album also features "Tetrastuctural Minds," "Venus Project," and "Fast Paced Society" from their Demolition EP. -Henry Glasheen