CEMETERY Wind and Shadows LP – Review and Interview

Chicago deathrock band Cemetery‘s debut LP, “Wind and Shadows,” started shipping April 1. Released on Mass Media Records, which is increasingly a one-stop shop for anything worthwhile coming out of the modern dark punk scene, the European version is set to be released on the UK’s Inflammable Material imprint. Cemetery are also thankfully playing out again, including a date with veteran anarcho-punks The Mob (see photos from their April 1 show below).

It feels a little strange to call “Wind and Shadows” a debut LP given that Cemetery previously had all their demos collected on the “Collection” 12″, also on Mass Media. But “Wind and Shadows” is in fact the first LP-as-such from the Chicago/NYC band (singer Danny lives in NYC), and it’s a nonstop juggernaut of guitar distortion, flange pedals, Aquanet, black hair dye, howling vocals, and enough doomy, foggy, claustrophobic atmosphere to make Mario Bava green with envy. It’s a gothic rock album made by punks. “We could still play a punk fest or a goth fest and more or less fit in,” guitarist Des says, from the interview below. “To me the term ‘post-punk’ means about the same as the term ‘hardcore’ does: nothing. Everyone uses it to describe every-fucking-thing so it’s lost any meaning. If we’re remembered as a deathrock band, that would be fine with me.”

 

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I first wrote about Cemetery here on CVLT Nation exactly three years ago, in March 2012, when their excellent and much-traded cassette demo was the only thing circulating from them. That demo, like much of their subsequent material, garnered positive comparisons to Only Theatre of Pain-era Christian Death as well as Paganicons-era Saccharine Trust; Cemetery singer Danny’s vocals sound a lot like Jack Brewer’s on A Human Certainty, both on the demo collection and here on the new Wind and Shadows LP. This is a good thing. The vocals on the LP are buried pretty far down in the mix, and are treated with quite a bit of delay. Guitarist Des’ guitar is front and center; his guitar attack is awash in flange and b-movie horror-style reverb. Quite often the guitar goes into heavily surf-influenced territory, especially on the song “Where the Worms Never Die,” a track whose guitar parts would have made the Ventures proud. The spooky surf guitar sound is almost always particular to American and Australian gothy rock (as opposed to Brit or other European goth – but with important exceptions!) and it’s utilized here to full, creepy effect.

The standout song on Cemetery’s 2011 demo collection was “State Ward,” one of the better deathrock songs in recent memory. That song sounded like it had been lifted out of a cobweb-festooned vault of forgotten LA punk tracks from 1982. The debut LP is much in this same style, a hybrid of southern California deathrock, British gothy peace punk, and some straight up punk-meets-postpunk experimentation a la recent efforts by Institute (the 2013 demo) or Criminal Code (especially as seen on that band’s “No Device” LP, which is sonically similar to Cemetery here, however you want to categorize them.)

The stand out song on Wind and Shadows is, fittingly, the title track. It’s an unholy monster of a track, basically a two-parter, with the first half comprised of a better-than-average, rumbling, mid tempo classic Cemetery deathrocker. The full song is over seven and a half minutes long, though. I generally dislike songs that are that long; my rule of thumb is that if a song is over 4 or 5 minutes it ought to have a damn good reason. Well, there’s a damn good reason here: The second half of the title song – everything from about the 4 minute mark onward – is an instrumental funeral march of sorts, carried along at a stately gait by Ian’s slow, trudging, dirge-y drumming. Definitely a great, spellbinding moment on the album, the apex of the listening experience. The next song, “Almond Eyes,” is built around what is basically a pop ballad structure, but it’s a pop ballad that really doesn’t want to be a pop ballad; it’s a pop ballad that’s rolled around in the dirt in the graveyard a little too much to be that pretty any more. The unexpected Chameleons cover (well, unexpected to me, anyway), “The Fan and the Bellows,” is pretty cool – it’s nice to hear Cemetery’s take on some of Mark Burgess’s painfully sweet/nostalgic riffage in that song. “xvvx” is a fairly aggressive barn stormer, probably the most uptempo track on the LP, followed by “Raven’s Chant,” which has a very rough demo quality to it and is probably for the hardcore fans only. it’s worth noting that horror artist Christopher Ilth, of the excellent Rudimentary Peni-esque Chicago band Daily Void (as well as the Functional Blackouts), weighs in on bass in some of the album’s later tracks.

Guitarist Desmond Knuska runs the Occult Whispers label and distro and is kind of a scene/cultural force in his own right. Below I caught up with him and the rest of the guys in the band, and asked them about the new album as well as what Cemetery’s plans are for playing shows, and how the Occult Whispers label is doing.

 

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Cemetery was interviewed by Oliver in March, 2015.

 

Hey Desmond, I last interviewed you about a year and a half ago, in autumn 2013. At that time, Cemetery’s future was uncertain. Danny, the singer, had moved to NYC. How has Cemetery changed since that time, and how have you kept going? Is Danny still in the band?

Des: Danny is absolutely still in the band. We’ve had the same line-up since our last show in 2012, which is not the same line-up that was on the demo/Collection LP. We slowed to a grinding halt; the only thing that we recorded after the final Wind and Shadows session was Joy Division’s “Shadowplay” for the CVLT Nation cover series, with each of us recording at separate times in different places around Chicago, and Danny recording in New York. “Shadowplay” was surreal and did not feel cohesive, but it turned out pretty well, considering the conditions. We’ve kept going because we each care about the band and have put too much energy into this to give up before the time is right.

Danny: I am still in the band. I have been in NYC for a little over two years at this point and I’ve just been working out here – on stuff outside of Cemetery, work, other projects etc.

Who is in Cemetery now, and who’s on the new LP?

Des: Danny sings, I play guitar, Ian plays drums and Sam is on bass guitar. This is the line-up for the entire A side, and then the Chameleons song opening the B-side. Three songs on the B-side have our original drummer Michael and second bassist Ilth.

Danny: I think in the first two years we went through two bassists and two drummers. Pretty much since I moved out of Chicago it’s stayed the same, so I guess the line up has been this for a little over two years now.

 

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The response to all the Cemetery demos seemed to slowly gain steam over the course of a year or two, until finally Mass Media put out all the demos on 12″ vinyl. How has the response to Cemetery’s music been over the past few years and has anything surprised you about it? If so, what?

Des: We’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response, much more than I expected when we started. As far as I’m concerned, the demos were always meant to be demos, but after going through almost 400 copies of the cassette demo, when Mass Media offered to release the demo, we jumped on it. From what I’ve heard, they’re down to less than 100 copies of that record, which is great. I feel honored to have created something that so many people can relate to and take solace in. It’s satisfying to kind of connect with people from all over the world without actually meeting them.

Danny: I think initially it was something that I kind of tracked by seeing it spread on the blogs of those guys who upload tapes – like, you get to read the user comments, which is my favorite part – I love good and bad reviews, but nothing in the middle – so when somebody would say something like, “Sounds like a shitty Roz,” I still loved that, even though it wasn’t what I was going for. I don’t think I read too many bad reviews, though; I’d say most of what I read was positive, which is really great. I don’t think I’ve read too much of a response about the new record yet, which I’m curious about because I feel the material is a bit different, and I had a feeling that people were going to either really like it or really hate it.

I was surprised when I heard a response from musicians who are more notable and play a relatively different style of music, one that’s more crafted and tighter somehow, and have said a lot of kind words about us. King Dude, and especially his bassist Nicholas, has always expressed a lot of support and great words, and apparently spread the tape around for friends in Seattle. Chelsea Wolfe told me that her band member Ben really loved the demo tape (though I can’t say what her take on it was). Elias from Iceage once called me from Russia to tell me about how he was listening to the tape with some people there and he said some very nice things about it, which I find kind of funny because I think Cemetery would be considered ham-fisted next to all of their material – like a little well done as opposed to rare – but they found value in it.

I also have to mirror what Des said about the global connection – one of my favorite things has been receiving notes from people all over the world asking for material or if we would come play – or inviting us to come play; we got a lot of great responses from Poland and Russia!

 

How long did it take to write the “Wind and Shadows” LP? Do you think the songs on the album differ markedly from the demos, and was there a different approach you were going for on the album than on past efforts? If so, what was that approach?

Des: Wind and Shadows is actually 4 different “sessions”; two professional recordings done by Matt Russell, and two one-track recordings done by the band. “Justice” was written on guitar around the time we recorded the demo. We recorded for the LP in 2012 and 2013, and it took a long time to finish it. I felt pressured to make sure the next recording after the demo was at least as good or better, and preferably more “goth” and less “punk.” That didn’t really happen; “XVVX” and “Where the Worms Never Die” are very much cut from the same cloth as the demo, and those were the next two we recorded after “Sexfoil.” We’ve tried to write slower and gloomier songs as time went on; the demo was kind of meant to feel things out, whereas the LP is focused on creating an atmosphere. I mentioned that depression played a hand in the way the demo tracks turned out, and I’m not proud to say that it also heavily influenced the songs recorded after. I won’t give any details, but a couple of us were in awful places when we wrote and recorded those songs. It sounds trite and cliché, but I believe it was a heavy influence.

Danny: For me, I definitely think that during the demos there was kind of a push more towards one style of music more than the other. I think at first, in the demos and certainly a bit when we were doing the first sessions, I was trying to make it a “Goth” thing and not a “Goth Punk” thing, and so I was trying to fit into something like that more. I think the later sessions I didn’t really give as much of a shit about any of that. I was going through some shit for sure – I don’t necessarily need to go into it, but it was around a time where I was like “I’m gonna move,” which made things weirder and better for me somehow. Also I became increasingly interested in how to add even more of a pop appeal that wouldn’t ruin it. You know what I mean? Not in an easy way, but in a way that I was interested in putting out something that was like soda pop that everybody knows and loves, but also with something that they can’t necessarily get somewhere else. Kind of like a safe Hollywood Romantic Comedy that everybody loves, except with a pig-fucking scene in it.

Ian: We decided to go for slower tempos. Most of the songs on Wind and Shadows are of a moderate pace. And “Almond Eyes” is slower than that. Also, Danny and I really like Concrete Blonde, so I tried putting some of their feel into “Almond Eyes.” Their songs always have an inviting dark swing, which pushes things along even though the band never plays fast. The tambourine added is an ode to Johnette Napolitano too; it’s like a castanet part she would do or like. Overall, we wanted things to move but not be rushed. It also allowed the atmosphere that we wished for this album to percolate and expand naturally.

Sam: I don’t think [Shadowplay] would have happened if CVLT Nation hadn’t asked us to record, honestly. Even though we couldn’t be bothered to all be in the same room, we still did something together and it felt good. 90% of Wind and Shadows was recorded so long ago – we did Danny’s vocal tracks in Matt’s apartment 2 years ago, the day after his going away party at my place. Everything was kind of falling apart for everyone anyway – I quit sometime after Danny left. Matt Russell, who recorded the LP, deserves a lot of credit for constantly getting on Des and I to finish the goddamn thing. He let us mix by candlelight, which is absolutely our preference.

Des: Oh, yes, it was so good – we walk into Matt’s room, already cavernous and painted black everywhere, and he’s got like 40 candles lit. So excellent.

 

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In the 2013 interview, you said, “For the [2011] demo I wasn’t trying to make it too complicated, because we were still feeling out the band chemistry. I only used distortion and reverb on the demo, that’s it. I just made sure to do several guitar tracks and it created effects that I didn’t intend but they worked out great.” And also that other members “wanted to incorporate the sound of bands like Crisis and Warsaw. I hear it. Danny was really pushing for pop music, the other guys wanted punk-punk-punk, and I wanted it to sound miserable. I’m happy with the result of all of our recordings. Angst you can dance to.” Is this a description you think applies to the music on “Wind and Shadows” as well, or would you alter your perception/description of the songs to note some different influences, and sounds?

Des: I don’t think this new record sounds anything like Crisis or Warsaw. I never stopped trying to write pop music, though. The Chameleons were great at writing post-punk pop music, and that’s probably why we cover “The Fan and the Bellows” on this LP. I still want our music to sound miserable, for sure, but different from minimal wave or black metal or whatever. The only time I really had a specific influence in mind when writing a guitar riff was “Alice,” but that was all the way back in 2011, and you can listen to the LP to figure out which song that’s on. I didn’t feel so bad about copping it when a friend who was in another one of the bigger bands of the new wave told me he ripped it off too. We aren’t the first ones to do it and won’t be the last. Anyway, this album isn’t as sparse: there are several guitar effects, much more percussion and signal manipulation. Still angst you can dance to, though.

Danny: I had a whole thing where I thought about a lot of the material on this release to be vastly different than the demo recording, I don’t know – now it seems a little bit closer than what I thought I was doing. I tried to use my vocals a little bit differently. I think the musicians on this one are amazing. This fucking guy Ian from Detroit on drums, are you fucking kidding me? He’s great. The other difference between this release and the last one is you can hear how much buffer Des got. Like you can hear those fucking fishnets shredding off his ripped ass fucking beefcake arms.

Sam: There’s too many weirdos on this record for it to sound like anything but Cemetery. Everyone’s got a different angle and nobody can play each others instrument. We can’t even agree on which Sisters era is the best.

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When you play out live, is it mostly a conventionally punk crowd you find you’re playing to, or have you noticed goths or other folks coming out to check you all out? Where do you feel the music fits in the scheme of things – is it postpunk, deathrock, or gothic rock, or….?

Des: We’ve played punk shows and goth nights, so a lot of different people have heard us who don’t run in the same crowds. I’ve seen everyone from Trad Goths to Crusties wearing Cemetery shit. I want to be remembered as gothic punk down the line, but it’s not up to us how we get referred to. We could still play a punk fest or a goth fest and more or less fit in. To me the term “post-punk” means about the same as the term “hardcore” does: nothing. Everyone uses it to describe every-fucking-thing, so it’s lost any meaning. If we’re remembered as a deathrock band, that would be fine with me.

Danny: My favorite at our mousetrap show with Arctic Flowers a few years back, and I saw some guy who was like in what had to be (I hope) his early 40s wearing an old Sisters shirt with like really fucking long crimped hair who just looked at me after the set as I was walking to the backyard and smiled and nodded. I feel like it’s definitely “Deathrock/Gothic Rock” – I think that’s the kind of shit we were trying to cook at least, and if it came out a little different, it would still be tasting kind of like that even if something in there might have been off or different.

 

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You run the label and distro, Occult Whispers, which is a fantastic label. How has that been? What are some projects you’re working on with that?

 

Des: For the first few years, it was just casual. What kicked it in the ass was releasing the Cemetery demo – I really enjoyed trading and getting in touch with so many people. I only set up a facebook page in the last few months, but I’ve been contacted by several bands and artists, and I try to listen to a new band every day. My schedule for 2015 is pretty full, but in January I released the excellent Salome’s Dance/Sierpien split cassette, and next up is the Annex 7″ single for their tour this summer – the tracks are so good, I’m really happy to be working with them. After that is Kreativ in den Boden’s Ars Goetia 12″, which is also so, so good. I’ve been talking to several people and bands about putting out a dark punk compilation 12″, we’ll have to see where that goes. The Salome’s Dance LP that was digitally released last year remains unclaimed by any labels, I would love to be able to put that out. Hopefully I can get around to releasing a couple more of my own projects on the label, like the Air Hunger 7″ and Veil Vitric demo. I want to release more than just records, but also have shirts and other merch available, which I’m working on doing right now. I run a goth/post-punk distro site and have a ton of stuff up on discogs and ebay because I’m always trading. Any bands or artists with an esoteric influence or left hand path persuasion should get in touch, just make sure what you have to offer is the highest quality of composition.

Danny: I fucking love Kreativ in den Boden!

What shows does Cemetery have coming up? I saw that you’re playing with The Mob and Population in Chicago – sick! Looking forward to that? Any other events or shows that have you excited?

Des: We’re playing with the Mob tomorrow. I’m so thrilled to have this opportunity. I have to play two sets that night, back to back with Veil Vitric and then with Cemetery. It’s going to be such a good show. Cemetery is also on the bill for the Chameleons show in Baltimore in October with Lost Tribe and Wild Honey, so that will also be a great show. We hope to tour the East coast in October, but need to set it up. I would love if we could tour the whole US, but I’m not sure our schedules will allow. We were practicing the other day and talked about how much we would love to tour Eastern Europe, but we know Australia loves us too. We’ll see what happens.

Sam: We’ll also be at Skull Fest this year in Pittsburg.

Danny: Also we’re doing another fest in San Antonio in August.

 

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Will Cemetery keep recording and continue into the future? Are you still writing new songs? Are you in any other bands or projects that you’re writing material for?

Des: Like I mentioned earlier, I play in Air Hunger and Veil Vitric. Air Hunger is currently myself, Ian from Cemetery, Vadim from Salome’s Dance, Artem from Sierpien and Risto from The Flatfield – that should be very interesting. Veil Vitric is a Chicago-based band with myself, Alex Nova from Curtains! and good friends Leo and Leah – we haven’t even played our first show and we’re booked up until July. I’ve been working on a project called Gang Burials for a year or so now. It’s a concept kind of like This Mortal Coil, but really hasn’t produced any collaborations yet. Cemetery hasn’t written new material together in a long time- as individuals we’re pretty busy. We’re toying with the idea of putting out some new stuff for the October shows, but if we do it will be more experimental like “430 Blood City” from the LP. Bands should progress and change, it’s usually for the better.

Ian: Air Hunger is a project that Des and I started in the winter of 2013. The first few songs we put together had a Killing Joke element to them, which I was excited about, for I was constantly listening to “Night Time” and “MMXII” at the time. But after those came “Mother One Day I Will Be You,” which is my favorite {with Jo from Zex/Blue Cross providing vocals.} It has a bossa nova beat and a haunting guitar part that reminds me of a desert caravan swaying on sand dunes at dusk. Musically, it’s like a combination of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and The Clash’s “Straight To Hell.” I also play drums in the metal/punk band, Wastelander, from Michigan. We came out with an EP last August called Hibernation Sickness. Me and the vocalist/bassist, Matt War, share a big interest in deathrock and peace punk, and like Cemetery did with Wind and Shadows, we used Hibernation Sickness to experiment more with atmosphere and layering. It’s a darker and slower album too. That’s the material I enjoy recording now. Fast stuff doesn’t connect with me as much as it used to. And I agree with Des – I hope that Cemetery does more songs like “430 Blood City.” Piecing together that number was a challenge, but a rewarding one. We cut and pasted parts here and there in post-production, put on layers of different instruments and atmosphere, etc. until we were all pleased with the outcome. It was a fun risk that worked. Our version of “Shadowplay” was a bit of a risk too in terms of how we recorded it, but we were happy with how that turned out too. And for me, that’s the joy of being in Cemetery. If Danny weren’t holding me by my feet over an abandoned, rusted corn silo to record a triangle part, it wouldn’t be a proper Cemetery session. Staph infections be damned.

 

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Thanks so much again, guys – if there’s anything else you want to say or promote, now’s the chance to mention it! Thank you!

Des: Wind and Shadows is available on Mass Media Records in the US and Inflammable Material Records in the UK – I’ve also been talking to Lost in Fog in Australia to make sure that those fanatics can get copies of the LP to sell there. Australia loves us and we love them. If any bands or people want to get in touch, don’t hesitate to email me at occultwhispers AT hushmail. I still think the underground is a community that should support each other and work to make where we live a better place. Eternal thanks to Mass Media Records – keep an eye on them because they have TONS of excellent records coming out. Thanks so much to Inflammable Material for keeping punk alive on that side of the pond and all the moral support! Thanks again to CVLT Nation for the continual support and coverage of so much crucial stuff. Cheers Oliver, keep up the great work!

Sam: I’m working on art for a ton of great bands right now at my main gig running Sun Eater Studio. In addition to everyone Des thanked above (especially Mass Media), I’d also like to personally thank the dudes in Oozing Wound and the staff at Thrill Jockey Records for continued and unwavering support. Matt Russell also deserves a huge thank you for putting up with endless blockades of pussyfooting and for capturing our sound so perfectly. All you hardcore noise heads need to check out Narcoleptics in NYC. Also Rule of Thirds (AUS) for having our record on their merch table before I had ever seen one and for putting on an amazing show. Australia, Mexico, Russia, Cuba… please holler at us we want to come play music for YOU.

Danny: I think I would like to give a big Hel Ye and thank you to the sweetie poo’s from Rule of Thirds for dragging our fucking record all over the place for us and for being so great when they stayed with me in NYC – they are like my favorite of that kind of music right now. They’re so fucking great. Other than that, Chicago’s very own Beau Wanzer, a big hell fuckin’ yeah at him. Also a big motherfuckin’ hell yeah at my good friends Ben and Hazel’s band OUTSIDE WORLD, also from Chicago – moved to NYC shortly after me and have been making some fucking great music.

I should also mention Ben Scott of the aforementioned band helped me record our Shadowplay cover over here in NYC. That’s it, and thanks to all you guys at CVLT Nation and Oliver.

Also listen to Lord of Lords by Alice Coltrane. Like all the way through, and pay attention to it.

 


 

You can order Cemetery’s Wind and Shadows LP here.

Cemetery have a Facebook page here.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all live photos of Cemetery are courtesy Daryl Locustinferno.

 

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The Author

Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard is a writer from Texas. He's been writing for CVLT Nation since 2012. He's also written for Maximum Rock-n-Roll, Bandcamp.com, Souciant, and others. He started the Radio Schizo podcast in the early days of podcasting (2005) and began the Wardance and Funeral Parade event nights in Dallas and Austin, respectively, in 2012. He is the author of Destruction: Text I and Thirteen Nocturnes.

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I’d watch that movie every day of my life.