Altars of Grief Interview with 130db [June 3, 2018]

Posted by Nick Skog on Thursday, June 14, 2018 Under: Interviews
Altars of Grief Interview with 130db
June 3, 2018
Original Link

This week I heard “Iris” for the first time, the second album by Altars of Grief. What a cool album !!! So beautiful. As far as I am concerned, one of the best so far in 2018! I needed to know more about this. I asked if we could do an interview and fortunately they thought it was a good idea. But in my research, maybe I find out some bad news …

Altars of Grief is a Canadian band from the city Regina (Saskatchewan), formed in 2013 as a side project. But at the time, their main projects started to fall apart and Altars of Grief became the main focus. They describe their music as “Prairie Doom”, because they are inspired by their surroundings and their music is a reflection of that. In 2014 Altars of Grief released their debut album “This Shameful Birden”. A dark album, but less emotional than their follow up the split album “Of Ash and Dying Light” with Nachtterror. And now they’ve released in March “Iris”, their second full length. And what a beauty that is…

We speak with Damian Smith, the co-founder and vocalist of the band.

First of all, you get some questions about your background and personal taste, so we know a little bit more about you. Let’s start!

– Do you still know your first contact with Heavy Metal? How was that like?

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a broad spectrum of music. My parents owned a respectable collection of tapes ranging from Guns ’N Roses and ACDC to Michael Bolton and Cher. And, I credit my sister for me developing an appreciation for 90’s alternative rock and grunge. I think the first real heavy metal band that clicked with me, though, was Linkin Park. I got “Hybrid Theory” when I was probably ten years old. Like a lot of kids growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, I had a long and awkward nu-metal phase, haha.

– Can you tell us which album had the biggest impact on you as a teenager?

Going back to my previous answer and my interest in nu-metal at that time, I’d have to say Slipknot’s “Iowa” and “Subliminal Verses” were what really got me started on heavier music.  When I got into high school, a buddy of mine showed me the song “Hatchet To The Head” by Cannibal Corpse and I started getting more into death metal from that point on. Some of the first bands that I became really attached to at that time are Opeth, Nevermore, Amon Amarth and At The Gates. I’d say Opeth’s “Blackwater Park” is probably responsible for me really wanting to start writing music and so that’s another album that had a big impact on me. 

– Maybe the same album as the question before (not in my case), but which record has formed your heavy metal taste the most?

The same friend who showed me “Hatchet To The Head” also got me into My Dying Bride, and I fell in love with “Turn Loose The Swans” and “Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light”. I’d say those two records are more indicative of my tastes now rather than just being the conduits for what got me into the genre. 

– And what was the first metal album you ever bought?

I received “Hybrid Theory” as a gift. The first metal album I would have purchased myself was probably Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” – I think.

– Tell us please what was the first tune(s) you learned?

While my role in Altars of Grief is as a vocalist, I picked up a guitar when I was probably 12 or 13. I’m sure the first thing I ever plunked out was a shitty rendition of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, or something. But, other than that, probably “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, haha. 

– Is your family musical?

My family has a good appreciation for music, but I can’t think of anyone else ever picking up an instrument.

– Which album did made a massive impression on you and was the reason that you make the kind of music you’ll play with Altars of Grief?

Like I mentioned previously, my interest in doom metal started with My Dying Bride. But, I’ve had a long time to fall in love with the genre. “Dust” by Mourning Beloveth and “The Pale Haunt Departure” by Novembers Doom are a few others that really cemented those feelings. And, I shouldn’t go without mentioning “In Reality We Suffer” by Abandon and “Lost Words”, a three-song EP by a band called Soulpreacher. Both of those releases, while not widely known, have been favourites of mine for years and had a huge impact on my lyrics and vocal approach, especially on “This Shameful Burden”.

– If you take a maximum of 5 albums with you, for example to an uninhabited island, which ones would you definitely take with you?

Woods Of Ypres – “Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth”, Swallow The Sun – “New Moon”, Ghost Brigade – “Isolation Songs”, Chelsea Wolfe – “Abyss” and Devin Townsend – “Ocean Machine”.

– On which album ever recorded, would you’ve liked to play yourself?

That’s a tough question! I don’t think I have the talent to have improved upon any of my favourite records, haha. A dream of mine is to have Mary Elizabeth McGlynn make an appearance on an Altars record, so maybe as a guest vocalist on one of the Silent Hill soundtracks?

– Which album do you play the most in recent weeks/months?

Lately, “Mirror Reaper” by Bell Witch has been on heavy rotation for me, along with the new At The Gates record, “To Drink From The Night Itself”.

– Which album do you like best so far in 2018? No, don’t say “Iris”!

So far, my favourites this year have been “I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer” by The Body, “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)” by Panopticon, “Feast For Water” by Messa and “Hugsjá” by Ivar Bjornson & Einar Selvik.

– A 98% of the time I listen to music is metal. I especially like NWOBHM, Thrash, Death, Doom and Black. I change that depending on the mood. The other 2% consists of Reggae when the weather is nice, in our family campervan we have found a compromise in Camel and because my daughter of 8 likes that a lot, ’70 progressive rock in general, Nick Cave (this guy of 60+ can perform!) and classical music. What about you?

Oh, man. Huge Nick Cave fan here! I listen to a fair bit of metal; mostly doom and black metal, I guess. But, I tend to prefer metal that’s a little outside of the box these days. I appreciate it when band’s make an attempt experiment with different sounds and elements. I also enjoy ambient, drone and noise music. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “F♯ A♯ ∞” and “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven” are some of my favourite albums . I like to listen to horror movie soundtracks, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to John Carpenter’s The Thing is incredible. I dig some 70’s progressive stuff like King Crimson, Goblin and Pink Floyd. I’m a big fan of Portishead, whatever genre that is – trip hop, I guess? Uhh, I dig some really old blues and country stuff. I’m really all over the place!

– Do you have any more interest besides Heavy Metal?

I’m really into the horror genre, whether it be films, literature or video games. I became a vegetarian last year, as well and am trying to get a little more involved with local animal welfare groups, and I just try to be more mindful of the products I purchase and consume these days.

– And we’ll finish this background and personal taste thing off with the most happy question of all, which song should they definitely play on your funeral? A song of Altars of Grief I suppose?

I guess I’ve never given this much thought! I heard someone say recently that the final track on “Iris”, “Epilogue”, would be a great funeral track. Shout out to Raphael Weinroth-Browne for that amazing instrumental!

Allright, now that we have a picture of you, let’s switch to your band Altars of Grief.

– I had a lot of questions. But I just read that Evan Paulson left the band! The co-founder of the band and in particular responsible for the music. And the remaining band members are thinking about putting Altars of Grief at the end of the year to rest. Fuck. Fuck twice actually. Fuck, throw away my questions. And Fuck, there comes an end to a beautiful band! My first question was: “Damn, what have you made a beautiful album. It can not be much better than this. They always say that you have to stop at your peak. So this is it”? I know the answer now, yes you probably would. Or is there a possibility…..?

Haha! Yes, unfortunately, Evan is no longer with the band, which is a very significant loss for us. He and I have fortunately reconciled our differences as of late, but the last year was certainly full of questions for those of us still looking to continue making music as Altars of Grief. As of earlier this year, though, we have been practicing with a new line-up; our previous drummer, Zack Bellina has taken Evan’s place on guitar and we’ve added a new drummer and a keyboard player. Our focus, right now, is obviously on “Iris” and with all of the time and money invested in that project, we want to promote it as much as we possibly can. But, with that being said, new Altars of Grief music is very much a possibility! 

‘Iris” was very much a communal process – far more so than on previous albums. And, while our sound may evolve as we move forward, we believe that the soul of the band will remain in tact.

– As mentioned earlier, you describe your music as Prairie Doom. Inspired by your surroundings. We often see that in black metal bands too. Labels are not that important, but if I put your reviews on my website under Black metal, do we get into a fight?

Absolutely not! I’ve always considered us to be more of a doom metal band that just happens to utilize blackened elements, but I won’t argue with your assessment! I think the more purist portion of the black metal community would probably take issue. But, sonically speaking, there’s certainly an undeniable black metal influence on “Iris”. 

“Storm of the Light’s Bane” by Dissection is sort of the ultimate winter album in my opinion, and it was definitely in heavy rotation while I wrote lyrics for the record.

– In an interview you said that on the split album “Of Ash and Dying Light” the music was 100% focused on emotional impact. More than on the debut album. And if we include the new album. How does “Iris” relate to the emotional impact?

I’d say that’s probably true. “This Shameful Burden” is a much darker record and definitely one of the more personal albums for me, lyrically. But, it was also our first crack at making an Altars of Grief record and we were still sort of figuring out our sound. “Of Ash And Dying Light” definitely went in a more moody and melancholic direction, musically, and we started using more clean vocals, so I think it’s only natural that it would be more emotionally driven, so to speak. 
To me, “Iris”, is the marriage of both the sounds that we were trying to achieve on those earlier releases. 
Evan is honestly one of my favorite guitar players and he understands very well how to create riffs and textures that are very powerful and moving on their own. Then, by the time we got together as a band to work on and arrange the songs, Erik Labossiere (guitar/backing vocals in the band) and I had already discussed lyrical concepts to great depth. So, we really made it our focus to ensure that that the music and the story concept we were telling worked in relation with each other. As I said before, the whole thing was very much a communal process on “Iris” and together we made an album that is for more stirring and interesting to listen to than anything we’ve done in the past.

– Everyone develops in life. In many cases this also applies to musicians and their music. A healthy thing. You too like to experiment. What I hate, if I can not follow the development of one of my favorite bands. How important is your own musical development for you? And how does this relate to the existing fans?

For sure. I think if a band strays too far from their original sound, they definitely risk alienating the fans that got into them for very specific reasons. Opeth and their last three records are a good example of this. But, I’ve always tried to look at it from the band’s perspective. Some bands are comfortable making the same record for twenty years, provided they get a cheque at the end of the day. Other bands choose to push themselves and that might mean bringing in new elements, or shifting gears entirely. My feeling is that while I might not appreciate the change of direction, I’ll always try to respect their desire to grow and evolve as artists. After all, it doesn’t change the past output. 
When it comes to our own music, I think we’ve definitely experimented a little more on each record. But, we’ve never done anything too drastic. We understand the core of our sound, we just like to bring in other elements occasionally if we think that it will help us accomplish our goal. On “Iris”, there are more noise and feedback elements. We wrote fast songs and we wrote slow songs. Some of these decisions also come from taking a critical look at yourself and seeing what needs to improve.

– I think we know what the low point is of the band, leaving Evan I suppose. But what do you think is the biggest succes with the band so far? Having an interview with 130 dB, I guess?!

This has been a lot of fun, honestly; some of these questions have really made me think, haha!

I think releasing “Iris” has been our biggest success, hands down. Getting to work with Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Travis Smith, and receiving this kind of reaction – we never could’ve anticipated the kind of response we’ve had. The last year and a half leading up to now has had it’s share of stress and small victories and we’ve learned a lot about not only music, but ourselves in the process. I’ve gone from hating “Iris” with every fragment of my being to never being more proud of what we all accomplished with it.

– Where would you ever want to perform? Maybe not with Altars of Grief in the future, but as a musician.

Japan will always be my answer. That said, more practically however, I’d love to get Altars of Grief out to the rest of Canada at the very least. And, maybe even to parts of the United States if possible!

– As a consolation you can choose any band with which Altars of Grief can join this last year of his existence, as support act on a world tour. Which band would you choose?

Again, I have so many answers to this question… I think a tour with Swallow The Sun would be incredibly fitting. Tryptikon, Bell Witch and Chelsea Wolfe would be high on my bucket list, as well! 

– I read in an interview, that you are hugely inspired by the Canadian band Psychotic Gardening. In what way? For example, can we still hear that on “Iris”?

While I wouldn’t say our sounds are anything alike, I think Chuck and his crew of guys in both Psychotic Gardening, and now Votov, have always been really supportive of us. And, they’re just wonderful dudes in general. As veterans of this kind of music in our scene, it’s been really cool and inspiring to get to know them. I’ve been a fan of theirs, going all the way back to “Hurdur”.

A few years back, Erik and myself got to perform with Psychotic Gardening on their song “Withering Servant”, which was a really fun experience! There’s a video of that floating around on YouTube.

– Can you tell our readers if Altars of Grief would stop, which bands should they keep an eye on? Shoreless, The Void of Life? Anymore?

As it stands, I don’t think there’s any fear of Altars of Grief ceasing to exist any time soon. But, you’d be doing yourself a favour by checking out Zack’s other band, Scythra. Their record “Human Cesspool” should appeal to fans of old school death metal, but there’s also elements of doom and more. It’s a great record! I can’t say much about it, but they’ve got something new on the way and it’s sounding absolutely next level. 

Shoreless is a sort of melodic doom/depressive rock thing I’ve got going on with Donny, our bassist. We’ve sitting on a fair bit of material, but plans for a release keep getting pushed back. One day, we’ll get something out! 
And, yeah, The Void of Life is Evan’s new solo project which he formed shortly after leaving Altars of Grief. He’s dropped a few teasers and it’s sounding really cool so far; I think he has plans of putting out a record next year, so definitely keep an eye out for that.

– I’m very sad to hear that Altars of Grief will probably break up. I play “Isolation” once again, and you’ll get the final words. I have a handkerchief within reach. Shoot…

Who knows, perhaps we’ll have more music for you yet! ?

In : Interviews 

Tags: altars of grief  doom-metal  doom metal  prairie doom metal  blackened doom metal  iris  this shameful burden