Altars of Grief (Damian Smith) Interview with [April 9, 2015]

Posted by Nick Skog on Thursday, May 14, 2015 Under: Interviews
Altars of Grief (Damian Smith) Interview with
Interview by: Mike Liassides
Published: April 9, 2015

Following last year's successful debut release, we spoke to Canada's Altars Of Grief to find out a bit more about the band. Giving us the lowdown: co-founder and vocalist Damian.

(1) Greetings, and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Could we start with the usual introductions to our readers: who are you and where are you from?

Hails! My name is Damian Smith and I sing for Altars of Grief; a doom/death metal band based out of Regina, Saskatchewan. 

(2) The band was formed comparatively recently, in the tail-end of 2013. Who started it all off, and what was the intended direction for it?

Altars of Grief was started by myself and guitarist, Evan Paulson.

Evan and I both played in different, “techy” metal bands and we got to know each other through playing a lot of shows together around the city. At the time, things were beginning to feel pretty strained in the project I was in and I decided to start working on solo material, focusing on more of a funeral doom sound. Coincidentally, around the same time, Evan also posted a clip on Facebook of a demo which would later become “Her Shadow Is The Night”.

I don't think that we ever anticipated that Altars of Grief would eventually end up where it is now. We definitely saw the potential in what we were doing and that finally culminated when we brought in Dylan Pinay and Zack Bellina to complete the line-up. From the beginning we all had a very similar vision, we knew what we wanted to accomplish and we were willing to do what it took to do so. 

(3) What's the underlying musical scene like in Canada? It's broadly comparable to Australia in ultra-low population density, but a third larger again in area: do you struggle with the same sort of logistical difficulties as they do in terms of recruitment, retaining members, getting a live scene going?

I think it really has a lot to do with where in the country you live. For example, in larger cities like Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, you're going to find that the population is definitely there to support a thriving music scene. Comparatively, however, Regina is a lot smaller. But, in spite of that, there are a lot of very passionate music fans and artists here to whom supporting the scene is everything! 

Furthermore, some of the most diverse and interesting bands that I know of have come out of this province and Central Canada as a whole. To paraphrase our guitarist, Erik Labossiere: “When you've got eight months of -40 degree weather, you learn to get creative!” 

(4) Did any of you have previous band experience, or was Altars Of Grief an entirely new project? How has everyone settled into it?

I played guitar for a band called Oblivion's Eye for several years with whom I recorded a full-length and an EP before disbanding. Evan and Dylan both played in a death metal band called Dystopian Wasteland. Zack was briefly involved with a black metal band called Chaotic Maelstrom. And, lastly, Erik was and still is an active member of Nachtterror and also toured extensively in a black metal band called Desecrate Scripture. 

(5) Probably our most-used question: what do you consider to be the defining qualities of Doom, and how do you best express them as a band and in your music?

I guess there are a lot of ways to answer this question, if you wanted to get into sub-genres. But, for me, doom is diverse, atmospheric and emotionally compelling music. Our sound is built upon a foundation of heavy, down-tempo riffing filled out by atmospheric choral arrangements. We draw a great deal of influence from black metal, as well and that's also reflected in our writing. 

(6) What inspires or influences you to write music? Do you have an established process for composing, or is it a communal thing where everyone pitches in?

A lot of what I write, lyrically, is inspired by actual experience. With this project, I've always felt more compelled to write about things that are relatable to people, or that are personal to me. Not that I'm for or against it, I'm just not interested in writing about religion, anti-theism, the otherworldly and things like that. Most of what I write is pretty much grounded in reality and psychological turmoil. 

As for the songwriting process, because we all live quite far apart from one another, a lot of our writing happens individually or through passing demos back and forth online. 

(7) And are there any bands which you particularly draw on for inspiration, or that you'd consider have a strong presence in your own music?

I'm a fan of really sludgy bands like Walk Through Fire, Abandon, Noothgrush and Old Witch. On the other end of that, I'm also a really big fan of hardcore, like Converge, Zao, Norma Jean, Every Time I Die and Oathbreaker. I definitely think that these bands have an impact on not just my writing, but even my approach to vocals and performance. 

We're all also very big fans of Woods of Ypres, My Dying Bride, Celtic Frost, Triptykon, November's Doom, Emperor, Agalloch, etc. and those influences have certainly found their way into our sound, as well. 

(8) You released your debut album, 'This Shameful Burden', in August of last year: that's pretty fast out of the blocks, especially by Doom standards! How did you get organised so quickly? Were you using already-written material, or working entirely from scratch!

Some material on This Shameful Burden had been written prior to the start of the band, but a bulk of it was written in that time span before we recorded it. Honestly, I'm not sure how we pulled it together so quickly. I guess it was just all the excitement of starting a new project and being inspired to write and play. Everything just sort of happened before we knew it! 

(9) Aside from what we said about it, what other feedback have you had from press and/or public? Has it been well-received? Are you pleased with the results, musically and/or commercially?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, honestly. We played a great run of shows in central Canada last summer in support of the album's release and since then we've received a number of great reviews and placed on some top, year end lists among some of the best bands in the country. 

I'd say we're all incredibly happy with what we were able to achieve. Moving forward, we intend to experiment more with different elements, like clean singing and to just generally push ourselves to improve. 

(10) I wasn't aware at the time of the review, but you also pressed the album as a self-released CD digipack - a nice piece of work, by the way. As far as I can see it's only available locally, or through the Hypnotic Dirge distro. Do you have any plans to get wider distribution, or to sell it (and other merch) online yourselves?

It's definitely something we're looking into now. But, as of this time, I think that Hypnotic Dirge is the only place to purchase the CD outside of making arrangements with us through Facebook or e-mail. We've started to see a lot of inquiries for t-shirts and other merch from all over, though, so we hope to get on top of it sooner than later.

(11) Where do you stand on the physical versus download issue for music? Any preference for format, or doesn't it matter?

I can appreciate the immediacy of downloads, but my personal preference will always be physical media. I like being able to see the presentation and the artwork and to be able to absorb the product as a whole more so than just having a file on my computer or .mp3 player. 

As a newer band, however, I think that downloading - whether legally or not - has it's benefits. Almost immediately following it's release, two different people had uploaded This Shameful Burden in it's entirety on YouTube and a number of other blogs and websites made it available for download. We ended up messaging and thanking some of these people, because we realise how many people probably wouldn't have bothered with the album had they been forced to pay for it. 

(12) You've already announced a forthcoming split vinyl release with Nachtterror. Any other plans for studio outings in the pipeline, or is that enough work to be getting on with for the moment?

The split is scheduled to be released this July and we've got a pretty busy year of shows and festivals ahead of us. So, for now we're not biting off too much more. But, Evan and Erik are already sitting on some new song ideas, so we'll be staying fairly busy! 

(13) The band also does live shows. How much do you all enjoy being on stage? What's the best live experience you've had so far?

I think I speak for the rest of the guys as well when I say that playing shows is our favourite part of what we do. Just recently we had the honour of opening for Dark Tranquility and Insomnium when they came through Saskatoon and that was probably the largest crowd any of us has ever played for. Also, our CD release show in Regina last year comes to mind as one of my favourite live experiences. It was a floor show in a packed room with lots of energy and it was a lot of fun to play!

Of course, the next day of that tour, we played to an empty restaurant with five noise/grindcore bands whose entire combined set times probably weren't even as long as one of our songs. 

(14) What would you most like to do with the live direction in future? Any particular gigs or festivals you'd want to do, or places that you'd like to tour?

Later this year we're playing a couple of cool festivals in Alberta as well as more dates in central Canada. Our goal right now is just to try and branch out even further into places like British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. In the future, we'd love to do a lengthy tour of Canada or even go down to the United States. 

(15) To close, I hope we've given you the chance to present a good picture of the band, but if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

Well, if you've made it this far - thanks for taking the time to read about us!

For more information, you can head over to the Altars of Grief website or stream This Shameful Burden at Bandcamp. 

Also, thanks to you, Mike, for the interview! 

In : Interviews 

Tags: altars of grief  this shameful burden  of ash and dying light  doom metal  regina doom metal  saskatchewan doom metal  death-doom  blackened doom metal