Over the last few years, post metal has seen a huge surge forward as a scene. Alway having been the genre of choice of some of the largest creative powerhouses in metal (ISIS and Deafheaven come to mind), it’s been subject to an enormous explosion of popularity recently, due to an implausibly huge combination of factors. So Hideous has been excelling in this vein since 2008, combining black metal, chamber orchestra, and hardcore punk vocals into a combination nothing short of haunting. I managed to catch the man with the plan, Mr. Brandon Cruz himself, and shoot some questions his way to pick his brain about the band’s new record, Laurestine (out October 16th through Prosthetic Records). It’s easy to get him talking, and his vocalization is a perfectly interviewable combination of eloquent and down-to-earth. Find out what I had to ask and what he had to say about their current tour, the band’s history, Laurestine, and more, after the jump.
I love the artwork for Laurestine. It’s really lush, and explains the concept of the album really well, which is, from what I know, that it chronicles the post-death experience of a man who dies on the first track, “Yesteryear”. Can you elucidate the album’s concepts a little more?
Sure. So, I believe it kinda started with my wife. She’s big into science — she’s a nurse — and when she was reading about consciousness after death, she came up to me and said, “You’d be big into this.” The article was about brain activity post-mortem, and how increased it is. There’s a short spike after the heart stops, with increased cognitive activity. At this point, I believe, they were testing animals who were close to death, testing neurological patterns and all that, but after that it becomes theoretical. Stuff like secreting hormones to make you peaceful, or life review (the idea of your life flashing before your eyes), and that interests me. So, I started putting the songs together and really had this idea of making it this symphonic chamber work. Last Poem, First Light (the previous record) was also a concept record but there was no platform to talk about it, so it didn’t get any reach with the concept, but this is a trilogy of records. It springboards from there, so you embellish; you sprinkle some soy sauce on it.
Very few bands use the strings as a main melodic instrument in the way you do, instead using them to augment their sound and provide counterpoints to the heaviness of their music. How does the writing process typically go for you, do the strings and overlying themes come first or do they evolve out of the work of the more ‘metal’ parts?
The metal part is a very small part of what we do, honestly. I write the songs on piano, and it gives me a very global view of the tracks. These are the chords, this is the bassline. I can have the leads written, and develop the music. From there, we can reverse engineer it into our four-piece. It’s supposed to be just as strong no matter what, if you’re hearing it as a chamber piece or as us, the punky version of it. It’s interesting how some people try to prioritize some parts of it over others, (in terms of emphasizing the metal), and we hope as a band that every part is seen with equal weight. It’s not a stringent dichotomy, we’re just trying to make the best music we can.
The So Hideous combination of elements of black metal, post-rock, and almost chamber-esque symphonic music is certainly a unique one. Did it evolve as a natural part of the sound, or was it a conscious choice to stick out with this combination of things?
It was definitely a conscious choice. You take all of these things, and absorb them, and through time and confidence, since we’ve been doing this for 8 years now, you hone your craft. At its core, it’s a little more stripped down. It’s supposed to just be strings and a guy yelling over it, but we’ve extrapolated over the years.
Almost like power symphonics, in a way.
We’ve always said we wanted to sound like someone having a nervous breakdown to [Antonio] Vivaldi chamber music.
Now, lots of people I’m sure want to compare you to artists that are doing ‘similar’ things, musically, like Deafheaven and their similarly shoegazy approach, or Ne Obliviscaris and Warforged’s use of strings in their black metal, but you guys have been down this road since 2008 or so, long before any of these bands has been a name in modern metal. Do you feel as though as the black metal mindset, so to speak, has moved towards a more accepting space for the sort of music you guys write, you’ve seen a different set of reactions towards your sound?
It’s tough for us because at this point, we haven’t seen the trickle-down effect to us. We can only speak through the lens of our experience. This wasn’t trendy in 2008 in New York basements, when people were walking out on us, so it’ll be interesting for us to gauge with this new record where we are. At this point, it’s us trying to carve our niche, and the narrative is always “we sound like them”, when we predate them, and never “they sound like us”.
It’s hard to think about the way you guys have been so ahead of the curve and not think of artists like Cynic – under-appreciated in their time, but now people are starting to come around and see how much they’ve changed the face of music. Do you feel as though the artists you are impacted by on the writing of Laurestine are potentially the same artists that are influenced by your older material?
Not necessarily. What we’ve done with with Laurestine is to try to go as “maximalist” as possible through our approach, sheer force of will and years of honing our attack, and trying to create the textbook version of what we do, regardless of what’s going on in underground music, just changing to fit what WE want. It’s a joke in the band that people won’t appreciate us until after we break up. We’re a slow moving animal — we’re trying to take the template we had on Last Poem and push it even further. This record is really dedicated in a lot of ways to Max Richter, because he’s really the one musician that has, in terms of his influence on us, pushed it to what it’s become now.
Why isn’t this series of shows called the Laurestine Tourestine? What should fans expect from this show?
(laughs) It’ll be a nice primer to the material, we’re doing a little bit of different stuff every night. We’re dusting off and sprinkling around some old classics, playing some stuff from the 2008, 2011, and 2013 eras, and of course the stuff from the 2015 era. We’ve never been in a position to do this before, and it’s nice — we’re spanning all of our different stuff instead of just playing what’s the newest. We’ve been having a good time. For So Hideous, it’s the best tour we’ve been on so far.
Does having a post-rock opening band [labelmates Set and Setting], as opposed to another metal band, bring a different dynamic to your show? If so, how?
I prefer this dynamic, insofar as, people are going to the shows maybe for some emotional resonance and catharsis, as opposed to air guitaring riffs and yelling “Slayer!” at us. Again, this is all contingent on the bands, but it’s nice to be playing to a different audience. In the band, we welcome diversity; who knows what the third record is gonna sound like. We’re gonna be very different people in 2017, and it’ll be nice to have a different experience as opposed to just a changed sound.
What have you been listening to of late?
Max Richter, Memory House. Huge. I can’t reiterate how huge that is for me. Vivaldi‘s sacred works are out of control for me. Massive. Mono, For My Parents [he’s wearing a mono shirt as we talk].
Actually, uh, I make the guys in the band listen to a lot of Radiohead – The King of Limbs – but the live version. Two drummers, and the live record just blows it out of the water. (laughing) That’s the stuff I wanna copy.
What was the reason for shortening your name from “So Hideous, My Love?”
We received an injunction — a cease and desist — from Anchor Bay Entertainment, who released the documentary with the title our band name is taken from.
GYBE did the same thing with their title.
Yeah, but I guess they had an issue with it, so we shortened it, made it easier for everyone. Being in a band now is already so expensive that going through that just isn’t worth it. We received the letter in 2010, but they got serious in 2011, and there was a bit of a panic: we had to completely delete our social networking, and there was confusion for a while about whether or not it was the same band.
Brandon, I heard through the grapevine you’re leaving your day job to become a full-time musician and composer. Has this had any effect on the way you manage your time in terms of being a band member and a composer?
Definitely. When writing Laurestine, every idea that I had went to the album in some way if it was of note. Now, with me working to transition into composing full time, there has to be a healthy balance. I’m working on a chamber record now, so there has to be that balance between my stuff and the band’s stuff. I think it’s great — I’m not so confined, I don’t have to incorporate every band member into all of it. It’s more of a diversity. If it sounds good here, I use it here, if it sounds good there, I use it there. I’m happy: it’s taken a long time to make this the reality.
Last, but not least, the Heavy Blog Is Heavy standard question to end an interview. How do you like your eggs?
Ohhhh. Scrambled, right, with salt and pepper, garlic, inside a ciabatta roll.
The band just ended their North American tour with Set and Setting, but word is there will be more shows on the horizon soon. In the meantime, check out “Yesteryear,” their first single from Laurestine, below, and watch the band perform it live after.