Progressive death metal is a genre that has taken on a lot of forms, especially in the 21st century. By the nature of it, it is open to blending with other musical styles or genres, often to great effect. It’s a way of bringing fresh energy and ideas to music to create something genuinely unique and distinct, and that’s exactly what Stone Healer have cultivated on their new full-length Conquistador, out this Friday. The struggle with such a concept is making the lines between these genres disappear in song form, while making them feel authentic and unforced. We’re happy to have the main force between this two-brother project sit down with us to discuss some of these challenges, the emotional journey behind the new album, and the current extreme metal landscape.
Stone Healer broke out onto the scene back in 2015 with the release of their debut EP He Who Rides Immolated Horses. This album was predominantly of the black metal variety, incorporating many progressive metal and atmospheric elements. With their follow up and debut full-length, the duo have switched gears towards that aforementioned fusion of a more progressive, dissonant death metal sound while channelling their self-proclaimed fanboy-ism for the 90’s grungy rock-n-roll of Alice in Chains. The album fluctuates between those sounds, while venturing into some clean sections reminiscent of older Opeth and refreshingly Akercocke.
Conquistador drops this Friday, April 30th, but we’re fortunate to premiere a full-album stream ahead of its release for our readers. Hit play then dig into the interview for some further insight.
[About the album title and wonderful artwork, the band states: “The Conquistador, as depicted by artist Leo Ulfelder, is a representation of egotistical arrogance, the illusion of invincibility, and self-appointed divinity in the same way that conquistadors during the Age Of Discovery believed themselves to be ordained by God throughout their terrorization of newfound worlds.”]
Hey! This is Trent with Heavy Blog is Heavy, thanks for taking the time for this. Huge fan of the new album and I’m excited to chat with you about it. Why don’t you introduce yourself and your role with Stone Healer?
Hey Trent, thanks so much for having me! I’m Dave Kaminsky and I am responsible for the composition, guitars, bass, singing, and audio production of Stone Healer. As it says in the Conquistador liner notes, “everything but drums.” My brother Matt handles those things.
It’s been almost 6 years since the release of your debut He Who Rides Immolated Horses, is Conquistador the result of a process over the past several years, or a more recent development?
Conquistador has absolutely been a years-long process, and in fact parts of certain songs on the record pre-date our debut EP. Near the end of Matt’s and my previous band Autolatry, I was writing a ton of material for a yet-to-be-named future project with more ambitious musical designs. The intention was to do something completely honest to myself without feeling the need to uphold certain genre guidelines; just to be totally real and exposed. In around 2014, we had way more than a full album of material to choose from for the Stone Healer debut, but the four songs that appear on the EP were chosen for being the most fully fleshed out at the time, and for not being a quantum leap in style from our previous work. It was almost like testing the waters of where I thought we could go, and I think my intuition to save the very most ambitious stuff for later was right on the money. Frankly I needed to grow as a musician, songwriter, and individual to do justice to those songs we shelved. For instance, the majority of the songs “Surrender” and “Whence Shall I” were written at this time, as well as bits and pieces of other riffs and song sections scattered through Conquistador. About five years of demoing, re-working, demoing again, recording, re-recording, etc and these songs finally evolved into a form I was structurally and compositionally happy with. I think the youngest songs that appear on the record were written in 2017, which really speaks to the obsessive recording and mixing efforts I put into this between spring of 2018 and fall of 2020.
You’ve talked about how deeply personal this album is to you, exploring topics of forgiveness, letting go, and difficult real life experiences. How much of this album was needing to express those emotions as a catharsis, and how much was it just wanting to write some cool ass rock n’ roll and heavy metal? Could the latter exist for you without the former?
It’s definitely a mixture of both! I think I needed to write this album in order to express the anguish that was building inside me for years, but I also desperately wanted to make a kind of rock n’ roll/heavy metal hybrid – without being campy or inauthentic. Musically I would hear elements of this aesthetic in bands like Kvelertak who do the “feel good rockin’ metal” thing to perfection – but I always wished for more extremity and intensity to be mixed in. I had this sonic aesthetic kicking around in my mind of a band that blends 90’s assed, booty-shakin’ rock music with legitimately extreme metal, and my need for spiritual release and personal catharsis at the time lined up perfectly. I think especially going forward, the latter of writing cool fucking rock n’ roll/metal will exist without the intense emotional release. Honestly, Conquistador has served its purpose in that I feel truly free from the emotional chains I had strapped to myself over the years. I certainly hope that I have no need to release the same kind of heavy stuff in the future, but I have every intention of writing more music in this vein!
What’s it like being in a two-brother band? Have the two of you always had good musical chemistry?
I really feel that sibling chemistry has an unmistakable musical quality to it! Matt and I started playing together when he was 10 and I was 14, and we were immediately drawn to other brother-bands like Lamb of God and Decapitated – especially since those brother pairs played drums and guitar in both. Discovering those bands together while both at the top of their game was tremendously inspiring and encouraging, not to mention the impact seeing them perform live had! I’ll never forget this feeling of “knowing” that Matt and I shared when we saw Decapitated live for the one and only time together (2007 at The Palladium in Worcester, MA) and recognizing the remarkably similar and palpable energy that brothers Vogg and Vitek shared on stage. It was confirming and validating in a way, as that was what Matt and I had always created when performing live together.
To speak quickly on the two-person band thing – when it comes to music that I write entirely myself, I prefer to have total creative control on the final product. So not having any other collaborators involved very much suits me with Stone Healer. For other musical projects I’ve been involved in (In Human Form, Infera Bruo), I absolutely relish the communal aspects of writing in the context of a full band. For me it just comes down to whether the music I write is truly personal, or something I’m happy to share in a communal experience with.
You guys have earned comparisons to the likes or Krallice, Enslaved, Ulcerate, etc., a pretty wide range of heavy experimental/progressive bands. I know you’re huge Alice in Chains fans and they were a major inspiration, but I’m curious from the extreme metal side of things if any bands or musicians specifically helped inspire Conquistador?
For extreme metal, Ulcerate is the one which first comes to mind. Not necessarily for the specific musical content itself, but because they seem to make music that transcends being just music. I think that years of listening to a favorite artist will internalize some of their stylistic choices, as could very well be the case for me with Ulcerate – but it’s the atmosphere and cohesive feeling that I find most inspiring with their work now. I was completely infatuated with what they were doing while in my early 20’s, but could never manage to write melodies or song structures as visceral as they did. And as time wore on, I less desired to emulate their music but took my inspiration from the fully enveloping state of being they curate through sound and feeling. It’s like an encapsulating darkness, or a suffocating void that feels equally beautiful and serene as it does existentially dreadful. I think this emboldened me to pursue developing my own “fully enveloping state of being” with my music, and to color it not with any other band’s brushes and textures but with my own truth.
Zeal & Ardor originated based off the straight-forward objective of trying to combine black metal and African-American spirituals. Was Conquistador born out of trying to make an Alice and Chains death metal album? Or did that just feel like a sound worth incorporating into death metal?
It’s funny, I’ve posed myself the question many times, “what kind of extreme metal album would Facelift-era Alice In Chains make?” As fun as this is to ponder sometimes, I can’t say I objectively wanted to make the “alternate universe AIC death metal album” with Conquistador. I think a lot of Layne and Jerry-isms have permeated my personal style over the years, but it’s not something decided to intentionally do. As I grew into myself musically I began gravitating back to my musical roots of heavy 90’s rock n’ roll, but highly technical death metal is also deeply implanted in me to the extent that I doubt I could fully shake off either influence.
The niche progressive/technical death metal scene that leans into the avant-garde and dissonance has seen a strong renaissance and burgeoning popularity over the past few years. Is this a style you’ve been into and playing for some time? How do you feel about the evolution this genre has taken in general?
Yeah, I definitely caught the “dissonance” bug in the evolution of my personal taste, with the caveat that truly atonal music, or music with an intentional omission of melody does very little for me. I feel that elements of dissonance can be used highly effectively in the context of the push and pull of a compelling extreme metal song, just as it can be used in any other style. But after having grown up with 2000’s Willowtip style death metal, worshipping tech bands like Spawn of Possession and Defeated Sanity, it’s quite interesting how a large faction of the death metal scene evolved into a more ethereal atmosphere. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I love that death metal and heavy metal in general can experience scene-wide movements and certain styles can come in and out of vogue. As for the rise in popularity of avant-garde and dissonant-leaning metal, I think it’s great that artists who choose to push musical boundaries with challenging music are gaining popular traction!
Any plans for live shows or tours in support of the album?
There are currently no plans for live performances but touring with Stone Healer remains a long term goal of mine! With plenty of Covid-19 uncertainty remaining I think that’s enough to discourage a band like us making gigantic touring plans, but I would also need to assemble a complete live lineup of a second guitarist, bassist, and touring drummer. Despite Matt’s immense talent behind the drum kit, his life as a farmer, apple orchardist, and natural world badass remains his top priority to the point that performing live with Stone Healer is not a realistic option. If the new album gets a great reception and the pandemic continues to be controlled, I see no reason why touring wouldn’t be a possibility a year or so from now. We’ll just have to play it by ear!
Thanks for sitting down for this, much appreciated and all the best with the album release.
Digipack CD, merch and digital pre-orders are available now in advance of the April 30th release, through Bandcamp.