Haunting The Chapel

Haunting The Chapel No. 2

When I included “Haunting The Chapel” in the headline to my last column, I’d intended it to be a smart-ass joke regarding my inability to legally use the name “Show No Mercy” after relocating things here from Pitchfork: You know, Haunting… is the 1984 EP that followed Slayer’s 1983 debut Show No Mercy. Even though I tossed it up there as a placeholder and then started pondering some other names (and asking you guys to ponder) I slowly realized it was more than a placeholder. So, yeah, now it’s official: I get to stick with the Slayer thing without resorting to a friend’s idea of Reign In Brandon and, of course, the new column is very much connected to Show No Mercy (just like that old EP was connected to the album), etc. Now that we have names out of the way…

This second installment isn’t going to be as long as the one I put together on Halloween: I wanted to put together a couple of shorter columns before a massive year-end roundup (expect another “shorty” in a week or so). What follows is an interview with Stavros, the guitarist of Chicago tri-guitar quintet the Atlas Moth (whose crystalline, sludgy, anthemic A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky showed up at #19 on Decibel’s Top 40 of 2009) along with a look at the cover art for the new WOLD album Working Together For Our Privacy, etc, etc.

STEREOGUM: You open A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky meditatively with “A Night In Venus’ Arms…” It could come off like a love song, but Venus is clearly a weightier name than Jill or Sue. What’s the idea behind the track? How did you decide to put it first?

STAVROS: The entire phrase “a night in Venus’ arms leads to a lifetime on mercury” has been something I wanted to use for a very long time. Sort of bookends to a record. You can easily look at it as Venus being a woman and mercury being what you are left with when she leaves. Although, I look at it as Venus represents anything that brings you joy. Whether it is a person, a job, etc etc. And mercury is to represent your end game. Many people strive for this one goal, whether it be a diploma to get a job and slave away until retirement … or someone whose entire goal in life is to have a family. Not saying of that is necessarily negative, but saying that the world is a large, vast mystery … and how can you be so sure that is what you want when you haven’t explored the possibilities? You can wake up one day, myself included, and realize that this job you worked for or this person you invested all this time into has left you in a poisoned state of mind. On [the album’s closing track] “…Leads To A Lifetime On Mercury,” I try to express that ultimately we lived for this goal, but did we ever find true happiness? And I hope that I can say, at the end of the day, with no regrets, that I strived to make the most of it and I am OK with living how I did. It’s your life and you have to live it the way you want. Your possibilities are only hindered by yourself.

STEREOGUM: What is a glorified piece of blue sky? The title track’s angry (“We’ve fed our greed for too long / We’ve been devoured whole”). It comes off like a political anthem of sorts (“Superstitions become gold / And freedom, a lost novella”). I’m curious about this image of the glorified blue sky on a larger scale…

STAVROS: The title was also something I had been kicking around for a minute. It seems to sum up everything as a whole in terms of lyrical content for the record. You can look at it as a political anthem, you can look at it as an anti-religious statement, it’s all the same thing. We are being lied to everyday … When are you going to wake up and realize it? And are you going to do something about it? It’s definitely another theme of the record. So many things are built up in such a grandiose scale and the old saying “if it’s too good to be true…” is very on point. No matter how green the grass is on the other side of the fence, there is still dirt beneath it. Keeping an open mind to ideas and thoughts and realizing that just what one person says is not necessarily Scripture. It’s key to personal growth. Your “Glorified piece…” is whatever you want it to be, however it pertains to your life and, on the flipside, how much are you going to let it affect you today, and in the grand scheme of things.

STEREOGUM: There’s a focus on the stars, sky, etc., across the record: “Our Sun, Our Saviour,” “Jump Room To Orion.” Etc. (And “Grey Wolves”
continues the title track’s feel of revolt.) Is this a concept album? It feels like eight different views of End Times. The end of daylight, darkness.

STAVROS: Initially, the idea was to continue the theme we had started on our EP, but once writing started happening, the idea was abandoned. I do think the record has an overall concept. It is a snapshot of where we were in our lives, with our playing, and our general mind set. I’d like to think that as much as we bring the feeling of End Times, we are also saying there is hope to change things and to accept new things. Dave writes lyrics as well, particularly, most of “Extraordinary Claims…” In that song he says “I still have confidence in man.” That line in and of itself explains yet another key element of the theme of the record: Things are not good — so much is bad in the world — but where are we without the hope in our fellow man to make the right and conscience decision?

STEREOGUM: “One Amongst The Wheat Fields” is an epic track. Can you talk about it a bit? I love the narrative’s setting: There’s some sort of urban/post-urban thing going on in various spots on the record.

STAVROS: The track lyrically, to a certain respect, evaluates the downfall of a touring musician. You leave town for extended periods of time and so much happens while you’re away that you start to feel a tad bit left out of your own life. You truly never realize how much happens in a month until you leave your home, friends, and family and come home to so many new things. It’s honestly a trip. We all are big blues, soul, and funk fans and that influence is definitely strewn about the record and especially noticeable on this track. When you listen to someone like Bill Withers or Lee Moses, their vocal delivery is so full of emotion it gives you chills. Definitely something I take a ton of influence from…

STEREOGUM: Did you guys come up with the cover design? What’s the concept behind it?

STAVROS: I came up with the initial idea and worked with our friend Ryan Kasparian on the packaging to bring it to where it is today. All of us loved the idea of making the packaging over the top and to give people a reason to actually want a physical copy. I recall sitting up at night listening to records and examining the album art. It was definitely important to me growing up and it upsets me to think that most kids in the age of iTunes will not even think of that as an option.

STEREOGUM: How’d you come up with the band’s name?

STAVROS: We definitely didn’t set out with a goal of what to sound like except to sound huge and a giant moth gets that point across in a big way. And, honestly, what’s more trippy than a giant moth?

STEREOGUM: People refer to Atlas Moth as a sludge or stoner band. They’re clearly wearing blinders/missing a lot. How did you develop your sound? The catchphrase in the press release is “With influences ranging from the Deftones to Neurosis, Cave In to Quicksand…” How important an influence was/is hardcore?

STAVROS: Influences are what have gotten everyone to where they are today but we have never put a restriction on what we are going to do. We never set out to sound like anyone, this is just what happens when the five of us stand in front of our instruments.

STEREOGUM: I feel like we’re in an especially good time for adventurous metal. People aren’t afraid to fuck with templates … so, to my ears at
least, we’re getting more and more unique approaches to black metal, sludge, doom, etc. Agree/disagree?

STAVROS: I strongly agree. I think the scene is an older market in the first place and definitely more open to being adventurous as oppose to say the hardcore scene or the death metal scene. It’s exciting to play music you love with your best friends and not be afraid of the endless possibilities.

STEREOGUM: You’re in the current lineup of [the black metal super group] Twilight. After the success of the Twilight movies, do you guys ever consider rethinking the name? I say this somewhat jokingly, but I seriously had this thought the other day.

STAVROS: This is a hilarious question, and one I have contemplated as well. I personally am not one to make that call. I don’t think it has even been a question in the minds of the other guys. I would love to hear Jef [Whiteheads]’s answer to this question … ha ha ha. I will say, We all busted our collective asses to get that record together and I am super proud of it and stoked to be a part of it.

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A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky is out via Candlelight. If after all that talking you’re curious about what it sounds like, take a listen to “Grey Wolves” and the closer “…Leads To A Lifetime On Mercury,” which was discussed in depth above.

“Grey Wolves”

“…Leads To A Lifetime On Mercury”

Look for the new Twilight album in early 2010. The lineup now includes Stavros, obviously, as well new guys Aaron Turner and Sanford Parker with Wrest (Jef Whitehead), Blake Judd, and Neill Jameson. Malefic is no longer participating.

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Here’s the album cover for the next WOLD album Working Together For Our Privacy (Profound Lore, 2/16).

It’s a three-song, 35-minute instrumental wind-tunnel divided up like so:

01 “The Secret”
02 “Death Spiral”
03 “Lovey Dovey”

I miss Fortress Crookedjaw’s possessed-witch screams, and folks who’ve argued Saskatchewan’s finest are more noise than metal will have extra fuel for their fire, but I really like the oppressive, meditative quagmire they create on this one. WOLD really do continually fuck with expectations…

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Keep your eyes peeled for a new Burzum album, The White God. (Which reminds me: I have a copy of Until The Light Takes Us I need to watch tonight.) And, speaking of black metal, I’m presenting something in the black metal theory symposium HIDEOUS GNOSIS on 12/12 at Public Assembly in Brooklyn along with Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the artist Lionel Maunz, etc. You can get info at Public Assembly, which will also lead you to the black metal theory blog.

These past couple of weeks been listening to Drudkh’s Microcosmos (how great is this album?), Opium Warlords’ Live At Colonia Dignidad, Katatonia’s Night Is The New Day (and Brave Murder Day), Mournful Congregation’s The June Frost, Dead Congregation in general, Amesouers’ self-titled collection, Secrets Of The Moon’s Privilegivm, Amorphis’ Skyforger, Paradise Lost’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us (a lot), Ruins Of Beverast’s Foulest Semen Of A Sheltered Elite, samples of the new Nightbringer, and Make A Change… Kill Yourself vs. Lifelover because the world is a confusing place. These are just a few of the things that pop up the most.

Still listening to Shrinebuilder, too. Folks were complaining that their self-titled Neurosis/OM/Melvins/Wino mind-meld didn’t make it onto that aforementioned Decibel list. Here’s “Pyramid Of The Moon,” if you’re unfamiliar and curious.

Finally, listening to Canadian/Swedish blackened doom crew Culted’s Below The Thunders Of The Upper Deep (Relapse) quite a bit, too. Here’s the second song, “Social Control.”

Culted – “Social Control” (MP3)

Next installment of HTC includes discussions with Colorado esoteric black metal crew Nightbringer (whose Apocalypse Sun is forthcoming on Ajna) and angry Salt Lake City hardcore/grind-inflected crew Gaza. Here’s “Windowless House” from Gaza’s second album He is Never Coming Back (Black Market Activities) to hold you over.

Gaza – “Windowless House” (MP3)

[Baked Atlas Moth photo by Derek Dietrich-Muller. Stavros is the one with the especially nice mustache, dead center.]