January started the year out with a lot of promise, with new releases from Indian, Alcest, and Periphery gaining quite a bit of attention around these parts. However, what floored us the most in the first four weeks of 2014 was the first-ever proper release from Chicago newcomers Warforged. Essence of the Land is an odyssey exploring death metal, black metal, and progressive metal influences that stunned a large number of the staff group. Opeth comes to mind with the band’s dynamic use of keyboards and acoustic guitars as cinematic gateways between stretches of technical riffing and powerfully melodic brutality, or perhaps Between the Buried and Me’s penchant for epic-length songwriting and weaving a larger picture over multiple tracks.
Essence Of The Land tells the twisted tale of a dread-inducing and brooding swamp and the unknown horrors that lie beneath its surface, making it one of those surprising death metal albums where the lyrics actually add a lot of atmosphere and weight to music. So much so, in fact, that the video accompaniment that provides visuals for ¾ of the EP contains the lyrics throughout, alongside footage of the band tearing through earth-shattering riffs.
At the heart of it, Warforged’s sound presents an assortment of progressive death metal influences that still manages to sound fresh and exciting, despite dredging the very bottom of the swampy sludge they strive to recreate. And honestly, what better way to start a new year than with a new band that are reinvigorating even one of the most well-trodden of sounds?
We spoke with the entirety of Warforged to not only get a look into the creation of one of 2014’s best releases, but to get a glimpse at what’s in store for the band’s future.
What can you tell us about the way you guys write and record?
Paul Aluculesei [guitar]: The recording process was a lengthy one. It’s actually how I first met the band. I got in touch with them when they were looking for a place to track drums. I was interning at IV Lab studio, where I now work, and I thought they had a ton of potential for a local band so I really wanted to work with them. They had started preproduction in January of 2013 and we tracked drums, piano, and organ in March. I had a blast doing it. I hadn’t really been in touch with the band until sometime in July when I learned that they were looking for a guitar player. I contacted Adrian [Perez, vocals/keys] looking to audition and I got the job. From there, we recorded DI bass and guitar tracks with our good friend, Ryan Zyer. We also tracked strings and acoustic guitars with Chuck Macak at Electrowerks Studio in October. Soon after strings were done, I tracked the vocals, percussion, and some synths spread out from October to November. Tracking was done by December and we were in a crunch to get the album out by January. I teamed up with Rollin Weary, an amazing engineer from IV Lab, for reamping the guitar tracks. Mixing and mastering was done by Rollin with me acting as sort of a producer, making sure the mix was going in the right direction in order to minimize revisions. Rollin knocked it out of the park and we were all really happy with the sound of the album. I did a few mix revisions the day before Christmas Eve and Rollin mastered the album on New Year’s Eve. Just in time for us to release our video on New Year’s Day. So it took about a year to get these 4 songs sounding perfect but we did it all on our terms and we were really happy with the end result, so it was all worth it.
Adrian Perez [vocals/keys]: The writing process kind of depends on the song. Most of the time, I write in my head, then sit in front of a piano or guitar pro to work it out. As for lyrics, I remember watching an interview with Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder. He told the interviewer that he liked to write about things that would’ve scared him when he was young. How awesome is that? What a sick idea.
Paul Aluculesei in studio with producer Rollin Weary.
Essence of the Land plays as a single track. Was this intentional or is that just how things turned out?
Adrian: The decision to make it a single track wasn’t made until about halfway through writing Regurgitate. Bringing back riffs heard earlier in the song in different keys or time signatures to completely change the vibe… it’s so fun when it turns out the way you want.
The release seems like it follows a concept. What can you tell us about the lyrical subject matter?
Adrian: I’ll section it by the song!
Diabolical Being: While exploring a swamp in a rowboat near their cottage in the woods, the main character’s older brother Kaura falls into the water and gets tangled in the roots beneath the surface. The much younger main character decides to flee and get help. Far too afraid to admit to his elders and superiors that something horrible had happened (when I was young, NO MATTER WHAT, I wouldn’t tell my parents if anything bad happened in fear of a vicious chancla-ing), he decides to keep the secret to himself. In the following three nights, he received visits from growing clusters of fireflies.
Regurgitate: The fireflies continued to visit and as they did, they cast shadow puppets that hinted at the fate of Kaura. Every night they visited and reminded the main character of his older brother, his guilt grew. On the third night, out of the swamp came a shrill shriek and the fireflies broke their cluster and flurried into the night, back to the swamp. The guilt-ridden main character decides to follow. He spends the following week paddling through the dark and misty swamp in hopes to find Kaura; slowly and unintentionally letting his imagination get the best of him. Almost before giving up hope, his eyes catch a spot of the swamp waters bubbling. As he does, Kaura’s water rotted corpse floats up to the surface.
Phantoms In The Mist: Kaura offers his recollection of what actually took place after the main character fled. In hopes of letting the main character know that his death was not his fault, Kaura firmly warns him of the swamp’s “tainted heart.” He did not just drown; he was pulled under water by the tree’s roots and vines, pulled beneath the muck, and smothered by the swamp. Kaura’s corpse vanishes, leaving the main character alone to decide whether any of it actually happened or if it was just his mind and the mist playing tricks on him. He decides to wait for his brother, or what’s left of him, to return.
Tainted Heart: Kaura’s warning plays over in the main character’s head.
Just a ghost story.
Adrian Perez recording vocals.
What are the main influences on the band’s output, musical and/or otherwise?
Adrian: Writing with the visual in mind is critical. At risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, when writing, I try to imagine what would be happening if it were a score to a film. For me, this allows for much more organic song structure. Musically, I dig Big Big Train, Opeth (and while we’re on the topic, Steve Wilson, Bloodbath, & Storm Corrosion), Altar of Plagues, Nine Inch Nails, Fallujah, Aegaeon, Cynic, The Contortionist.
Jason Nitts [drums]: As far as my drumming influences go, I would have to list George Kollias (specifically Annihilation of the Wicked by Nile), Nick Barker (specifically Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and Death Cult Armageddon by Dimmu Borgir), Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Dave Culross (especially on that new Suffocation, possibly my newest favorite drum-work to date), Austin Lunn, Flo Mounier and the list can go on forever. I always feel like I’m un-justifying these influences because I have so many that I always forget to include.
Richard Stancato [guitar/vocals]: I am highly influenced by atmospheric black metal bands such as Winterfylleth, Panopticon, and Lake of Blood. My writing style focuses more on atmosphere and emotion rather than riffing and I think that comes from that style.
Paul: Allan Holdsworth, Dillinger Escape Plan, Cynic, Exivious, and Radiohead
Alex Damske [bass]: Cynic, Envy, Textures, Extol, Sikth. Also, anything Devin Townsend touches.
Essence of the Land is obviously still quite fresh, but what can we expect out of you guys for a full-length album?
Adrian: Oof. The full length. This is my chance to try and sell this thing, right? We’re a couple songs in and it’s turning out incredibly organic. It’s really exciting because it incorporates the atmospheric and heavier elements from the EP and contrasts them with even more dynamic elements. We’re just letting ideas flow and experimenting with a lot of new vibes and styles. It’s a blast! We’ve performed some of the songs live and they’ve gone over pretty well. I just can’t wait to sit down and record them!
Rich: Hopefully more meaningful, honest music.
Essence of the Land was released exclusively through Total Deathcore on January 3rd, 2014.
How did the collaboration with Total Deathcore come about?
Jason: We had originally planned a split with Total Deathcore between us and two other bands. To make a long story short, the other two bands were actually picked up by the same label, and the status was kind of hazy on the entire thing. Once we had everything written and recording had commenced, we had communicated with Total Deathcore again about possibly releasing this EP, and they were 100% on board with it. We really lucked out with them, amazing people with top notch communication, which I think is key to releasing something not directly on your own.
Brody Uttley of Rivers Of Nihil contributes a guest solo. How did that collaboration happen?
Jason: Rivers of Nihil are some of our very close friends, we had actually met them the few times they came through Chicago before they were picked up by Metal Blade. Each time they come through, I have them spend the night at my place, and we’ve definitely developed a “brotherly” bond with those guys. In ‘Regurgitate‘ we intentionally left a spot open for a guest solo with a few people in mind, and when we asked Brody he literally jumped on the opportunity and sent us something that very same day.
Can we expect tour dates out of Warforged this year? What are your future plans?
Adrian: Ideally, I’d like to at least finish writing the full-length this year. We may have any official tours, but we’ve been trying to at least travel to the bordering states around us when we can. Writing takes priority though!
Paul: Writing of the full length is under way. At this point, we’re going to continue to grow our fan base and hone our live show and try to keep the buzz going. We’d love to tour in support of the EP as soon as it’s financially feasible.
Warforged’s Essence of the Land is available now via Total Deathcore for $5 digital and $8 physical. Stream the record via the Bandcamp player below.