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INTERVIEW: U.S. Black Metal/Grind/Experimental Band Sloth Herder

Sloth Herder- No Pity, No Sunrise

Grimoire Records continues to be one of the better labels out there for metal that pushes the envelope.  The Maryland based label also stands out from other small and mid-size ones for the simple fact that they record all of the material they put out, as co-owner Noel Mueller works the boards for any release bearing the Grimoire name.  Following releases from The Vomiting Dinosaurs and Blood Mist, March 24th will see the label put out their third effort of 2017, the debut full length from Sloth Herder.  Titled ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’, the full length finds the Maryland by way of Pennsylvania and Virginia band taking all of the elements from their earlier EP’s and splits to the next level.

What made Sloth Herder’s debut grab me is the amount of chaos and unpredictability the band crams into their thirty five minute run-time.  Don’t take the name to mean that you’re in for some lumbering doom or lame stoner metal, as what we have on ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ is an ever-changing slab of metal, grind, and punk that refuses to be lumped into one checkbox and often jumps between several styles in the span of a single song.  Dense grind style blasting might give way to aggressive black metal riffing or transitions that have the same dizzying effect as The Dillinger Escape Plan or some of the more off-the wall death metal bands like Pyrrhon.  But despite how frequently the instrumentals are changing gears, everything flows together seamlessly and Sloth Herder is able to achieve that perfect balance between barely controlled chaos that bludgeons away at your whole body and dark, bleak, dissonant sections that give a respite from the attack but still hurt like hell.  Josh Lyon’s vocals play a large part in the attack as well, as his harsh screams feel like they can tear directly through your skin at higher volumes.  The mix places Lyon right up at the front, making the impact that much more severe.

Unlike some of the other bands out there that try to push the envelope and challenge themselves to head in as many different directions as possible, Sloth Herder has real substance to back up their chaotic, unpredictable nature.  For as often as ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ changes, there are plenty of sections that will stick with you and the bleak, unrelenting nature of this album will keep you coming back.  With the album release a little over a month away, I had the chance to ask some questions to the band to learn more about its creation and the band as a whole.  ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ is out on Grimoire Records March 24th.

Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.  For those just discovering Sloth Herder through ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’, can you give us a brief introduction to the band?

Josh: Sloth Herder formed in 2009 with Sean Wilhide on drums and Nick Craggs on guitar. I, Josh Lyon, joined the band in the summer of 2010 as vocalist. We existed as a bass less three piece until picking up Jasen Reeder on bass. Jasen left and we received the talents of bassist and Luke Ibach, who had been a friend of the band for years and was in the band Sea of Static with Nick and Sean. We’ve recorded several self-released EPs, demos, and a split with now defunct Harrisburg, PA black metal outfit Horde of the Eclipse. Nowadays we are spread out between Pittsburgh (PA) Cumberland (MD) Baltimore (MD) and Richmond (VA) which have made things a tad more difficult but the devotion to the band and each other remains just as strong.

TO: One of the unique elements of Grimoire Records is they handle recording, mixing, and mastering in-house.  You recorded with Noel Mueller from Grimoire back in the fall, what sort of input did he have that helped make the finished record sound the way it does?  How did this experience differ from your previous recordings?

Nick: Having self-produced most of our previous releases, we definitely took more of a backseat this time and let Noel do his thing. His goal was to capture a live feel and that really dictated our approach in terms of getting good takes with minimal overdubbing or added effects. Noel has a methodology to tracking and mixing that is definitely unique. Throughout the mix process concessions were made on both sides, the end result being something that both Noel and I agreed was quite different than anything we would have come up with independently. We can be a fairly OCD band when we want to be, giving Noel ultimate veto power on this one definitely allowed us to relax and focus on banging out riffs.

TO: There are a lot of different elements happening throughout ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’, and your instrumentals have a tendency to suddenly change from one extreme element to another.  With this in mind, how does your writing process work and how do all of these elements come together to form a completed song?

Nick: There is never a conscious effort to incorporate specific elements/styles when we set out to write something. The lack of genre specificity in our finished songs is more a byproduct of our varied musical tastes. Not being tied to any specific genre lets us go wherever we want and keep things fresh. From the start, we wanted a band that reflects all of our musical inspirations without sounding very obviously inspired. Most songs start out as a part or two from me or Sean, then we start trying to write our way out of it. These parts are mulled over individually and passed back and forth over time. Once we have a basic structure we work everything out together in practice until it all flows with a definitive beginning and end. There is also kind of a running challenge to come up with parts to fuck with the rest of the guys. This ends up pushing us all out of our comfort zone on a regular basis and really forces creative solutions to transitions. In the past, things were a little more piecemeal as we were building up the catalog. We kind of had a collection of parts to be bandied about until they found a home. With this full-length, nearly everything was written from scratch over the past two years and I think the evolution in our writing really shows.

TO: You mentioned recently that Doli Incapax was one of the first songs you ever wrote, but it has been re-imagined for the album.  What elements changed between the earlier version of the song and its final album version?

Josh: Re-imagination in this case just meant re-titling. The song existed from the band’s infancy and is a dependably wretched salvo in our live set so we brought it onto this album. It’s progressed since its first incarnation with the addition of vocals and Luke’s handy bass work. The story the lyrics on this album tell is of deplorable acts being inflicted on mass populations and the hunter/gatherer hysteria that tends to follow, so Doli Incapax fit this song better than the previous title Poison Bee Muscle Hand. Law school attendees who may be reading this interview might be confused by that but we stick by it. As far as elements that have changed between 2017 and 2009/2010, every time we play this song it breaks the listener’s spirit more and more.

…every time we play this song it breaks the listener’s spirit more and more

TO: The two Anhedonic tracks give listeners a slight reprieve from your attack, but these interludes still have a very bleak, dark feel to them.  Where do these two pieces fit in writing wise with the rest of the album, and how did you decide where to place them?

Nick: Once we knew we were doing a full-length, I had the basic idea that I wanted to break things up a little bit. Although we write fairly short songs, most are pretty complex in terms of structure. Combine that with the intensity and it’s easy to get burnt out or for everything to start blending together. So functionally they are there for a breather, but we still needed them to adhere to the aesthetic of the album, which is quite bleak. Anhedonic Pt. 1 was originally for this purpose, kind of just a melodic rumination on anhedonia itself, a mental condition where the sufferer lacks the ability to feel any emotion whatsoever.  Ferric Air was an adaptation from an idea that was once a part of Doli Incapax. Anhedonic, Pt. 2 was something I had been trying to flush into a full song, but ended up deciding it was better off being self-contained. It calls to mind some of the atrocity imagery found in the lyrics this time around and was a logical fit. A People’s Dream was mostly Noel’s contribution salvaged from several other bad ideas we had. Once we had the initial track list down, we looked at how each track interacted transitionally and looked for the right places to switch it up. The overall theme of the interludes connects to the isolation and loneliness of being forgotten by society and left to rot, something to which the artwork alludes to as well.

TO: I hear everything from black metal, grindcore, and even some Converge style riffs throughout the album.  What are some bands that have influenced you as you’ve come up with your own variant of metal?

Josh: For me, Sakevi from GISM, Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke, Cleveland bands, even that Fugazi set from the instrument documentary where Guy Picciotto is hanging upside down from the basketball hoop. Anybody who is at odds with their audience and maybe even convention in general from the very first second of the set will always influence me. The other guys in the band influence me every day, they create much of the framework that pushes me on the lyrical end because holy crow let’s face it the way they write songs is tougher than a two dollar steak. Oh yeah, I’ve always been drawn to the energy and emotion of street preachers, unfortunately.

Sean: In the formative years of the band I was personally influenced by, but not limited to, Assuck, Converge, Atheist, Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, GISM, Grief, The Jesus Lizard, that first Mr. Bungle album. I definitely draw a lot from the band itself. I’m most influenced and inspired by what we can do next.

Nick: Definitely any band that is versatile enough not to be pigeonholed into a certain sound. Although not a major influence, I would say Converge definitely fits that bill. Faith No More was certainly pivotal in getting me into more aggressive music in the late 80’s and really shines as a band that can do whatever they want and still sound like themselves. As stated before, we really draw from a vast array of styles. When it comes to metal, I am definitely less versed than the rest of the guys. Extreme metal tends to be pretty boring when bands have this sound that they just churn over and over. I generally listen to a lot of different music (both good and bad), then take the bits and pieces I like; eg. the dissonance and shoegazey qualities of French black metal, the heaviness and ugly chord changes of grunge and doom, the mathiness of 70’s prog and 90’s indie rock, etc. Then throw all that shit in the grind-blender and see what oozes out.

Luke: In terms of my individual playing style, Justin Chancellor, Jeff Caxide, and John Wetton (R.I.P.) are my personal influences. Artists that have influenced my overall vision of the band include Emperor, Deathspell Omega, and Blut Aus Nord, for their compelling emphasis on mysticism and absurdity. I also really dig Unsane for their pulverizing sonic qualities despite their non-metal categorization.

TO: The cover art for ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ is stunning.  Can you tell us more about it and how it ties into the concepts explored on the album?

Luke: The photograph evokes a sense of dread and demoralization while simultaneously portraying the merging notions of insanity and ideological fanaticism. The two become indistinct, leaving the viewer to question where one falls on this elusive spectrum as the line demarcating madness from zealousness is often nebulous and unclear. The imagery is foreboding, revealing some hints of subtlety, a quality which all members of this band endorse and an aesthetic first explored with the ‘Abandon Pop Sensibility’ artwork. I have always felt that aesthetic impact is most effective when the album art and music match each other in a complementary or even ironic way and believe that this congruence is achieved visually and musically with ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’.

Sloth Herder

TO: ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ is being released on CD, cassette, and digital formats.  Grimoire Records has always placed an emphasis on physical media through CD and cassette releases.  What are your thoughts on these formats and where they fit with extreme music today?

Sean: CD’s and Tapes are still incredibly relevant for any underground/DIY band or label. A physical release, whatever format it may be, is an attachment to that band or album. Thumbing through record stores to find the marble in the oatmeal, a recommendation from the distro at the back of a show, or seeing that package stuffed in your mailbox. It’s less likely to be a fleeting thing, instead of being on the chopping block every time you have to clean up your hard drive. At the same time, digital allows us and pretty much every band on the planet to break its geographical shortcomings. You need merch, you want reach, all of these formats are a valuable resource for bands.

TO: Having been around for several years now, what have been some of your most memorable live performances to date?

Luke: Playing live, while infrequent in recent times, is something we all look forward to doing. Some of our most memorable shows include opening for Jucifer twice during the band’s earlier formation (2011-2012) and Deceased on two separate occasions (2015-2016). The Depot, two different venues sharing the same name in Baltimore, MD and York, PA, is always a blast to play. We prefer smaller, more intimate shows where we have greater influence over our audience to incite corruption and destruction.

Josh: We live for any gig that immediately goes off script and enjoy highly energetic crowds to feed off of. Two shows in this vein will always stick out to me. One was in the basement of a house Sean and I shared where a mutual friend smashed a lightbulb in the face of a not so mutual friend and another jumped through a window. The second was in the back room of old Sloth Herder hangout Guido’s in Frederick MD where I was attacked while we were playing, followed by a chemical fire extinguisher being thrown across the room and exploding. There is an audio recording of this show where you can distinctly hear people fighting to breathe. Maybe it will see the light of day sometime.

TO: It looks like your last live performance was back in the fall with Deceased and Savage Master.  I know you guys are spread between three states, but with the album completed, will there be more opportunities to see you live in 2017?

Josh: Our circle will never be broken so distance aint nothing. My only beef nowadays is having to drive through Breezewood, PA sometimes. We will make the most of the opportunity afforded to us by Noel in recording this album so 2017 will be a big year for the Sloth Herder. There’s been an uptick in blistering atonal music over the past couple years so hopefully we get swept along in that wave at some point this year, maybe even being the drill sergeant in the great hierarchy of grindcore. This album is hotter than a two dollar pistol so we gotta capitalize.

TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ or Sloth Herder?

Nick: Since most of your readers are probably hearing of us for the first time, our only advice is this…Just listen to the album and make your own opinions. Don’t listen to the scene, don’t listen to your friends, just put this thing on and see what it does to you. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding us from our name to what genre we are to our ideologies. We’re just four guys who make dark, aggro music because we like doing it. Although we definitely dwell in the bleaker realms of existence, we still like to have a good time as our live shows will attest. And if you do like the album, bug your local show organizers, we’d love to come visit whatever shit town you call home.

Sloth Herder | Grimoire Records

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