Withered and Wake have been on a month-long tour of the US and Canada and their latest stop saw them at The Earl in East Atlanta Village. Being the last show of this run for the hometown blackened-death act Withered, I made my to The Earl to witness the mayhem firsthand.
Local support was provided by blackened grinders Malevich and electronic one-man project Gregorio Franco. Malevich kicked things off with an impressive set consisting of furious riffs accompanied by some serious growls from their 2016 release, Only The Flies. Aside from displaying some impressive grit on stage, the band weaved in and out of proggy doom passages towards the end, showcasing the eclectic nature of their sound.
Next, electro-synth-terror outfit Gregorio Franco entertained the early crowd with its heavy blend of syncopated beats and dark melodies. Slow build-ups followed by atmospheric passages and occasional harsh vocals that span the entire specturm of extreme music are all fair game with Gregorio Franco. Although I am generally not a fan of electronic music on the EDM end of the spectrum, there was plenty on offer to get me excited (and headbanging).
After a brief setup, Calgary grinders Wake took the stage. This was the moment I’d been waiting for: the band’s latest release, Misery Rites (Translation Loss Records) had blown me away and I was excited to see them live for the first time. Energetic, majestic, and full of confidence, Wake didn’t disappoint. Frontman Kyle Ball paraded around the small stage howling tales of darkness over raging guitars and blast beats in epic fashion. I’ve fallen in love with Wake precisely because of their fresh take on a sound that can, for me, get repetitive and boring. They manage to keep things fresh by constantly criss-crossing genre boundaries. The band feels comfortable in its own skin–its no-bullshit attitude comes across in the live performance.
Next up, hometown crew Withered closed the night and their North American tour out in style. I had caught Withered last year providing support for Suffocation and Morbid Angel and had a blast. Their performance last night was on par with last year’s if not better in front of a supportive home crowd. The band’s 2016 release, Grief Relic, is still refreshingly original black/death metal to my ears and after witnessing last night’s performance, I am salivating for new material from them.
The lineup, atmosphere, and high caliber of musicianship made this night a special one for me.
After the show, I managed to have an impromptu chat with Kyle Ball from Wake in which we discussed genre boundaries, the band’s writing process, and the state of the Canadian extreme music scene:
Let’s talk about the whole tour and how it went – what was the diet like on the tour – that’s the most important question. Did you have some good food?
KB: [Laughs] Yeah, we had some okay food but, I mean, we started in Winnipeg in Canada. Then we crossed the border and we met Withered in Chicago, did a couple of dates in the States, hopped over the border, went back to Canada, did Toronto, Montreal. And then, it just so happened to that Covenant Fest, our friend Phil puts that on literally across the street, so after our Montreal show, we all went over and saw Dead Congregation and Adversarial, and that was fucking sick! And then, we hopped the border again, came back and we’ve been with these guys for the last, I think, ten days in the States. I think it was pretty much two weeks in total that we’ve been with Withered.
So, I do a lot of research on the global scene as a whole – what are some of the differences between the Canadian and US scenes broadly?
Well, it’s kind of secular. Calgary, not so much, only because it’s one of those – it’s a very safe city. You know, it’s one of those places you can walk down the street at three in the morning and feel safe. Whereas Edmonton, three hours north of us, is a little bit more blue-collar, a little rougher, and they have a really good scene. They have a lot of black metal – bands like Revenge are from there. Our good friends, Begrime Exemious, a great scene there you know. And then when you go a little bit more east, like Saskatoon, they got a bunch of sick bands. But, really, in that area, that’s pretty much it. Calgary doesn’t have much for grindcore or heavy music in general. There is a lot of stoner rock, kind of like doom sort of stuff. There was a big fastcore mince and grind scene about seven years ago but that kind of tapered off.
So it’s kind of a niche thing?
Yeah, I mean everybody played fast and then they wanted to play slow because, you know, that packs venues [laughs].
So what’s coming up immediately for you guys after this tour?
We’ve been writing. After we came back from recording Misery Rites, we lost a member and got the band back together to a solid lineup and started writing again. So these guys basically have a new EP written – I’m not saying that it will be an EP – we played one of those new songs tonight. But we’re just writing and keeping the fucking machine going, you know.
How has the reception been on the US side of the border?
I think it’s kind of subjective and especially to every band because, we’ll play certain cities and we’ll have an amazing audience that’s super receptive. And there’s some cities, which I won’t name [laughs], we’ll play to like five people. That’s only happened once in this tour. For the most part, it’s been amazing. We played shows where we were the odd band out because the rest of the bands were all black metal. And us being known as a grindcore band, I think a lot of people have that in their heads as, they just kind of don’t give a shit. But when we started playing, they did give a shit and it was cool. So this tour has been amazing – touring with Withered has been a fucking blast. Some of the best dudes, amazing band, no complaints. It’s sick!
Going back to the Canadian scene in general, is that a scene that’s booming now? If it is booming, in what niche or sub-genres because I see a lot of different elements in your music.
I don’t think it’s a niche thing. Like what you were saying earlier, in terms of what we do, we’re not a typical grind band, which will bite us in the ass sometimes, because we’re not a true grind band. Grindcore is like a backdrop, and we take that and expand on it. We all listen to different kinds of music – a lot of black metal, a lot of war metal. Even beyond that, a lot of us love hip hop and beats. And we’re not really looking to pigeonhole ourselves to a certain sound. We just kind of write and whatever comes, comes to us. But as for Canada, I would say mostly the black metal and the war metal scene are the scenes that are thriving. Three hours north in Edmonton, you have bands like Revenge, Begrime Exemious, Antediluvian. You go to Ontario, they have a bunch of sick fucking bands. But I think that’s kind of what’s really making its mark right now. There’s still the whole DIY mince scenes but that kind of contains and sustains itself, you know.
How does the band operate in terms of your writing and ideas?
It’s kind of ever-changing. When we did Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow, we were in a lot of different places with members and we had to hire a guy from Minneapolis to play drums for us. So we would fly him up to do writing. So that was a lot of Rob writing in the basement and then bringing riffs to jam, and we structure songs that way. When we had a falling out with that guy, Josh our current drummer, he came in and he lived in Edmonton, so we were doing the back-and-forth thing the entire time. But when he came to Calgary, the whole dynamic changed. The record we just put out, we actually recorded in Edmonton but we weren’t happy with it. There were a few issues but we kind of took that as a pre-production demo said, “Okay, let’s work on that.” So we all sat in a jam room for the first time – the first time I’ve ever done this with a band – where we would actually all work on the music together. You know, even me as a vocalist, would have input on the music, which I’ve never really had in all the bands that I’ve played just because I’m a singer, I’m not musician, you know? All I do is get wasted and scream about shit [laughs]. But we all got a room and we all worked on these songs and we kind of came up with the concept for Misery Rites and worked on that. Because the whole album is kind of based on my personal issues as well as the perpetual cycles that I would fall into. So what we did with that is, we took a lot of those songs and we worked on that. We would cycle certain things in the songs and be very aware and conscious of those things. So for this album, that’s kind of how we did that. And even the new stuff we’re doing, we all sit in a room and we all collaborate together to do this.
That sounds like a very conscious way of doing things.
And again, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. I’m not talking shit about any grindcore or anything like that because that’s where we came up. We came up in the grind scene but it’s one of those things where we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. You see a lot of grind bands – they want to be grindcore so they write grindcore. That’s totally fine, man, we all love that shit – everybody loves that. But we want to expand on that a little bit and take all of those outside influences and do some different stuff because, for me as a music listener, I can’t just listen to heavy stuff or only grindcore. And when it comes playing music, we don’t just want to do that. We want to experiment with a ton of different stuff.
And finally, what are you listening on the road?
I recently rediscovered my love for metal! I listen to a lot of bands like Our Place of Worship Is Silence – those guys are fucking amazing. I know CVLT Nation is throwing those guys a lot of love. Also, I still have a lot of roots in hip hop – I have a hip hop project that I do as well – I make beats. Arjin, our guitar player, he’s the same way. He loves hip hop, love metal, loves grind. Josh, he loves everything, and Rob loves everything. You know, it’s just all over the fucking map, man.