Lexington, KY’s Tombstalker released their debut full length ‘Black Crusades’ last year and it completely blew me away. This was an album that hit hard, with tonality that came in somewhere between the Swedish buzzsaw sound and Bolt Thrower with hints of melodic death metal, thrash, and black metal added in at key moments. Though this type of razor sharp tonality is the starting point for quite a few death metal bands, the songwriting is what makes Tombstalker worth paying attention to as each track heads in a fairly different direction. Whether they’re letting a chilling melody fill the air over a slower, rumbling bass or attacking you with fast, jagged riffs there’s a lot to like about the approach these guys take to their death metal.
‘Black Crusades’ originally came out on CD and cassette last year via Shadow Kingdom Records, but this year it’s been given the vinyl treatment. It seems like the album may have slipped through the cracks for some listeners that would normally be all over this type of stuff, and if you haven’t heard it for yourself it’s time to change that. Below we have a full album stream from the band’s Bandcamp, along with an interview with guitarist/vocalist Conqueror Horus where he discusses the band’s writing style, upcoming plans, and much more. The vinyl is available to order now from Shadow Kingdom, Hells Headbangers, or direct from the band.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Currently you’re getting ready for a summer tour of the West Coast. Besides that run of dates, what else do you have planned for 2016?
Tombstalker (Conqueror Horus): Our 2016 Summer Tour out west in support of our debut fell length ‘Black Crusades’ is really the only major plan we have for the remainder of the year regarding live appearance. Prior to that we have a one off date with Australia’s Sewercide that we will be hosting here in our hometown of Lexington, KY. Chances are we will end up with at least 1 or 2 more isolated gigs after we return home from tour prior to 2017 but if so they will be few and far between. Aside from preparing for the trek out west we are spending the rest of our time focusing on writing new material for the next full length. All 3 members of Tombstalker are also involved in other side projects that will be seeing their own share of activities ranging from recordings to mini tours.
TO: The vinyl reissue of ‘Black Crusades’ will be a co-release between Shadow Kingdom Records and Hells Headbangers. Shadow Kingdom released the album on CD last year, but how did Hells Headbangers get involved?
Tombstalker: Well first of all the vinyl version of ‘Black Crusades’ is not a reissue. Shadow Kingdom records handled the CD and cassette tape versions and those dropped in October of last year. The vinyl version was indeed co-released by Shadow Kingdom and Hells Headbangers and came out this past February. Regarding the HHR involvement, SKR and HHR are brother/sister labels and have been involved with each other for years now. In fact we played the SKR riot stage at last year’s Hells Headbash fest in Cleveland.
TO: Speaking of Shadow Kingdom, they’re mainly known for traditional heavy metal and reissues of older, out of print titles. How did this collaboration come about?
Tombstalker: Our involvement with Shadow Kingdom began after the completion of ‘Black Crusades’. At this point we proceeded to shop it around to prospective labels that interested us in the form of a press kit. After filtering through a few options we decided to go with Shadow Kingdom. While it is true that SKR has predominately focused on traditional heavy metal and doom releases we have noticed a shift in them being open to releases of more extreme styles. Perhaps there is a bit of branching out occurring.
TO: For those that may have already grabbed the CD last year, are there any noticeable changes for the vinyl edition? I’m wondering if you were able to do anything different with the layout or artwork with the additional space a vinyl sleeve can provide.
Tombstalker: The vinyl edition really does not differ in any way from the CD version other than the superior sound quality that vinyl provides. Aside from that the only real difference would be bigger nicer looking artwork in the form of a well-crafted gatefold LP. While supplies lasted we were also providing fans that bought directly through us with a full color poster of the extended cover art. Those are now long gone but the SKR and HHR web shop still have copies for sale if someone wants one. The LP edition also comes on traditional black wax but also a clear and black splatter edition that looks really nice.
TO: How does your writing process work? You’ve got some longer songs on ‘Black Crusades’ that stretch past the eight minute mark but they feel really fluid and natural. How does your material make it from that initial riff into these lengthier arrangements?
Tombstalker: Certain tracks such as the title track and the closing track were from the very beginning planned to be long standouts that take you on a journey. However, the writing process for these longer epics really does not differ in how they are constructed than any of our other songs. The only difference is that they take longer to compose and perhaps have more conceptual intentions that go into them. As far as our basic song writing goes I will bring song skeletons, riffs, and concepts to the table and we will piece them together collectively. There are various degrees of completion regarding this but the majority of the song writing is done by myself (Conqueror Horus) however it is important to mention that Defiler and Basilisk have their personal stamps on all of our music as well, many times in the form of suggestions, lyrical concepts, and various other ideas concerning song structure, tempos, etc.
TO: Tying in to the previous question, how do you feel your writing style or approach changed from the self-titled EP in 2011 to ‘Black Crusades’?
Tombstalker: Honestly, we have not consciously tried to do anything different other than just expand on our foundations and improve upon what we already began. I would like to think that our musical abilities as well as influences have blossomed since then so in those ways there is definitely change at hand although not overtly intentional.
TO: I find that a lot of death metal musicians tend to have different go-to bands when they think about what groups got them into the genre. What are the bands that got you into death metal?
Tombstalker: As a band we all have somewhat different musical backgrounds but to specifically discuss death metal bands, here is a small list that I would feel safe to present for the entire band. Entombed/Nihilist, Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Death, Unleashed, At The Gates, and Carcass are just a few important ones for us. I feel like it’s also important to mention some black/death favorites as well especially regarding directly influencing Tombstalker. Some of those would include Necrophobic, Dissection, and Unanimated.
TO: Damian Herring from Horrendous mixed and mastered the album. What was it like working with him and what type of input did he have?
Tombstalker: Working with Damian was a true pleasure. Not only is he able to craft excellent oldschool recordings that resonate with power and bite but he is very professional in all his dealings. Damian’s input was minimal and most of our postproduction experience was really just him following our requests and working closely with us to fulfill our vision.
TO: I’ve got to ask, is there any influence of either the Magic: The Gathering card or Warhammer 40K Tomb Stalker when it comes to your band name? I’m leaning towards 40K based on the album art for ‘Black Crusades’.
Tombstalker: Absolutely. You know it is funny that you ask this because there is a strange bit of irony involving this. When we picked the band name Tombstalker back in 2008 it came directly as inspiration from the MTG card that depicts a large balrog-esque daemon with horns, fire, etc. We loved the name from the beginning and it was a unanimous decision even though the MTG universe has no connection at all to Warhammer 40k. At this time Games-Workshop had not gotten around to revamping the Necron army so the Tombstalker model wasn’t even a reality yet. As you and many others may already know, Tombstalker’s entire conceptual approach is using inspiration from the Warhammer 40k universe as an allegorical device and playing with our own twist on this sci-fi realm. It has been that way since the beginning. So you can imagine that when GW decided to release a model called the Tombstalker, several years after being inspired by another game for our name… well we were happily shocked. Now our band name strangely enough is bound to our overall inspiration. The universe works in strange ways…
Certain tracks such as the title track and the closing track were from the very beginning planned to be long standouts that take you on a journey.
TO: Are there any particular songs from your discography that you would say you enjoy the most when it comes to playing live?
Tombstalker: We love to hit them with our mid tempo crushers as they generally get the strongest crowd reactions. Some of these include Black Crusades, Supreme Veneration of Death, and a brand new unreleased song that I can not mention but will be sure to demolish the underground in due time. That being said there isn’t really a single song in our catalog that we dislike playing.
TO: This year was the second Blood of the Wolf Fest, which the members of your band organized. Tell us a little bit about what made you decide to put this festival together and how it’s changed from its first to second edition. I understand there are already plans in place for another one next year?
Blood of the Wolf Fest is an event that is foremost centered around promoting and raising awareness for our collective known as The Wolven Brotherhood. Wolven Brotherhood is a family of underground hellions from diverse backgrounds that have unified themselves against this pathetic modern world. Many of the bands that perform at this festival are in one-way part of or directly tied to the brotherhood via our underground network. We also take great pride in BOTW’s ability to showcase a diverse array of artists but where total camaraderie prevails. This seems to be a rarity in the splintered divisive climate of the punk and metal world and we proudly stand against that type of thinking. Aside from the event being one giant party and a reunion for many of us, it is really just a showcase of the best the underground has to offer regarding up and coming talent in our region. Most of the acts we book are very underground but we give our guaranteed stamp of quality when we say we do not put any filler acts on this event. The past two festivals ran like clock work with this most recent one being bigger, better, and longer. Total victory was experienced by all that attended. Come to the next one and see for yourself how we do things. You will not be disappointed.
TO: For those who haven’t made it over your way yet, what’s Lexington like for metal bands and shows?
Tombstalker: Lexington has gone through many evolutions over the years but as of today I think it is safe to say it is going through a golden period regarding the metal scene and the participation from the city. Not to blast our own war horns but much of this is largely in part to our efforts in booking, touring, and bringing more attention to our city as a viable spot to play. We have several great venues on lock and when we book we do it right because as a band we know how to treat bands.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Black Crusades’ or Tombstalker in general?
Tombstalker: Above all Tombstalker represents the warrior spirit and evolution through conflict! Hail the ruinous powers, hail chaos!