If Gorgoroth is the type of shit that the Uruk-Hai listened to during their night raids, Foehammer plays the kind of tunes the orcs were probably spinning when they kicked back with a skull full of ale and a bone pipe full of weed when the job was over.
This punishing doom outfit from Annandale, Virginia is yet another in the ever-growing list of bands named after Tolkien mythology, but I assure you this one is not like the others. No blast beats. No corpse paint. No lo-fi for the sake of lo-fi. This is fuzzed-out, feedback-heavy, high-quality doom with vocals that seem to be echoing from the depths of the mines of Moria, and riffs pulled straight from R’lyeh.
I had the pleasure of hanging out with the boys from Foehammer at Shadow Woods Metal Fest 2017, an unmissable musical experience that is back for 2018 with some big changes (more on this later, but info is available here). A whiskey-fueled discussion of Balrogs and board games led to an agreement that once Foehammer’s new record was off to the pressing plant, Cvlt Nation readers would be the first to get a taste. And lo, the day is finally upon us.
Jay (bass, vocals, divination) and Joe (guitar, general sorcery) were kind enough to answer a few questions about the new record, Ursula K Le Guin, death and the theremin. So smash that play button on the new single “Recurring Grave” below, and get doomed with the boys from Foehammer!
Pre-order Second Sight here.
Congrats on the new album, Second Sight, due out on April 6 via Australopithecus Records (pre-orders available at this link). Second Sight kicks off with that signature, Foehammer feedback, but once the riffs kicked in I felt instantly transported to a place that was a lot more grim – and a lot more sonically diverse than your previous release. Do you think that has to do with better/different production, a conscious effort on your part to branch-out, maybe a little bit of both? Things started making a lot of sense once I saw that the album was mastered by James Plotkin, who’s worked with the likes of Conan, Salome and Khanate.
Joe: I don’t think it was a conscious effort to branch out sonically as much as a consequence of upgrading to a proper studio and a recording that captured what we’re doing with sharper detail. I think it’s fair to say all three of us have a pretty wide palette to draw from, and we mutually vibe on the spirit of experimentation throughout the conception of the songs whether they were written alone or as a unit.
I told Jay that every time I thought I had found a favorite song, Joe would hit me with a new riff – new to my ears, and new with respect to the sound you established on your first album. As your label suggested, the 2xLP format does seem to have allowed for a lot more “exploration.” With Second Sight, I still get that meditative vibe I think fans have come to expect from Foehammer, but there is a lot more to unpack in these songs. Care to elaborate on that? I mean, Jay you’re in another band that includes a theremin and a saxophone (Black Dominia), and Joe you’re apparently working on some unnamed prog project that you said is very Gong influenced?
Jay: I do think some of the evolution of the sound you noted is a natural result of our working together as a group for a few years now. On the first EP, about half of the riffs were written before Joe even joined the band.
As for Black Dominia, I had wanted to form a balls-to-the-wall, all improv band and try to push that as far as it can go with no genre boundaries. We’ve been working on it a few years now and I am still consistently surprised. It generally falls somewhere in the middle of psych-rock, jazz, drum and bass, and doom/stoner.
Joe: I have a few things in the works. Outside of the solo guitar things I do on occasion, I play in an free music collective called Organosi.
What’s next for Foehammer? Anything in the works (tour dates, split ideas etc), I had heard that your former drummer is no longer with the band, as well.
Joe: Tour! We’re no longer playing with Ben, but we have a new Ben, Ben Price. Much respect to former Ben for his time and dedication to the band, but paths diverge. He plays in a few bands you can probably find on the socials, and we wish him the best in the future.
Jay: As Joe mentioned our current plan is to tour the west coast and southwest in April after the album drops. We do not have any solid dates to announce yet but we will very soon. In the meantime, we are woodshedding material with Ben Price for another EP to hopefully record later this year.
The Tolkien references still abound, much to my enjoyment, but are we getting a little bit of Carl Jung here, too? “Second sight” is a quality that Tolkien has suggested was embodied by Lady Galadriel, and one that appears to be rooted in the philosophies of Carl Jung. A popular quote from Jung reads as follows: “In my estimation, second sight is not an illness, but a gift; you might as well say that it is pathological to be endowed with remarkable intelligence, but the possession of a gift always carries with it the burden of responsibility.” Am I way off? Seems like another song, Axis Mundi, might be a little nod to Jung, too. How did you come up with the theme/concept here?
Jay: Actually, while I am definitely interested in Jung, and that quote is a great pull, it actually wasn’t a direct influence on the concept of Second Sight. The title is actually in reference to the concept of The Seer, the last (and longest) song on the album. Without getting too deep into it, the song concerns the last members of a dying sect travelling to an ancient cairn and performing rites to gain the power of second sight, or the ability to see events in the past or across great distances.
Truthfully of the 4 songs, the only one which has direct references to Tolkien is Black Númenórean. The other three take place in a dark fantasy setting of my own creation, of course influenced by Tolkien but possibly even more so by the Norse myths. I try with my lyrics to not be too specific and maybe to create more of an atmosphere and allow the reader’s mind to fill in the blanks.
To discuss Axis Mundi a bit, the title is meant to refer to the concept of the world tree, or Yggdrasil in the Norse myths. I tried to touch lyrically on both the concept of Yggdrasil and Níðhöggr, the great dragon wrapped around its trunk, as well as sort of, slow enlightenment though the researching of ancient ephemera.
Joe: I hadn’t made that connection of the title with Jung either. It seems like those two were navigating parallel wavelengths at the turn of the century, whether it was the imaginative mythology of Tolkien or the scientific approach to the mythology of the past observed by Jung. Axis Mundi was a title that popped into my head when I thought about the song structurally; it has a steady pulse that gives the impression of an unwavering center.
After asking several artists for their favorite books at Shadow Woods Metal Fest, Jay made sure that I was up-to-speed on the great, and recently deceased author Ursula K. Le Guin. Her passing has been mentioned by a wide swath of heavy artists who I love (including a thoughtful tribute from Cvlt favorites Ragana), so I thought I’d give you guys the chance to say a little something about her here, as I suspect she had a major influence on a pair of guys who would go on to name their band after a Tolkien sword.
Jay: So, Tolkien I discovered before I was even conscious of it as my mother read the LOTR trilogy and the Hobbit to me when I was still in diapers, several times over actually (at my demand haha.) However, LeGuin is probably equally, if not more beloved to me, as being the Tolkien I discovered on my own as a (late) teenager/adult. Her works will always be dear to my heart. Especially the Earthsea series which has a sublime quality to the prose I can’t say I’ve encountered elsewhere.
Joe: It’s somewhat of a legend, but Philip K Dick went to the same high school as Le Guin, a year her senior, though she never saw him and none of her classmates had any recollection of him at all. This led her to believe he was some kind of ghost or apparition until they corresponded years later, yet they never met in person.
During that same conversation, we also discussed the intersection of gaming (both console and tabletop) with the world of heavy metal and occultism. At Shadow Woods Metal Fest, where we met, it’s not uncommon for spontaneous D&D and Magic: The Gathering games to break out in the middle of a set. Hit us with some heavy metal game night offerings to play while we spin Second Sight.
Joe: Definitely some old Platform RPGs like Final Fantasy (6 is the best ever), perhaps some Dungeons of Chaos, which is a newer Ultima-style RPG on Steam for PC. GODLY. Look it up.
Jay: Personally I am gonna go with some meditative-type games to go with the meditative vibe of the material. Super Bust-A-Move, Katamari Damacy, and especially Drakengard (all for PS2) would all do nicely. If I were to recommend a tabletop game, battling as a warrior-monk to control an ancient space pyramid in the game Zoneplex seems pretty much perfect.
Gotta ask – either of you own this 47-inch replica of Glamdring (aka: the foe-hammer) available for the low-low price of $195 from Noble Collection?!
Joe: No, but if the Noble Collection wants to endorse us and send a few to test out live, I wouldn’t be opposed.
Jay: I try to keep my fandom mostly low-key. I do think it’s worth noting I do feel that it’s a shame that the imagery developed by New Line is now the default imagery for LOTR in most peoples’ minds. If anything I am
more into visual conceptions that pre-date the movie trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, New Line did do a great job, especially in using Alan Lee’s work as a basis for a lot of the bigger visual pieces.
Since I met you guys at Shadow Woods, I thought I’d throw you a “sleep-away camp” style question that I asked other artists at the fest: if you were stranded on a desert island, what is the food, book and band/album you would bring?
Food: A limitless supply of Indian food
Book: Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones
Music: ZM Dagar “Raga Yaman”, Earth “2”, Arvo Part “Te Deum”, Robbie
Basho “Visions of the Country”, Radio India “The eternal dream of
Food: Also a limitless supply of Indian food.
Book: (currently reading) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Music: Naked City – collected works, Dazzling Killmen – Face Of Collapse,
The Beatles – Abbey Road, Discordance Axis – The Inalienable Dreamless,
Grief – Come To Grief
On a final, more somber note – the scene you guys are a part of has been hit with some pretty notable losses in just the last few months. Jon Rossi of Pilgrim in October. Rev Jim Forrester of Foghound, Serpents of Secrecy and Sixty Watt Shaman in December. And most recently Al Morris III of Iron Man. I offer you the floor.
Jay: Each one of these tragic deaths deserves an essay unto itself. Suffice to say, these people all clearly drank deeply from the wellspring of life, and if I can cram as much living into the short time I have on this earth, I will be in good shape when death comes for me.
Joe: Don’t forget Fast Eddie Clarke, he’s one of the three original Godfathers of us all. Memory Eternal.