Driving down Broadway last night, the darkening sky was lit by flashes of lightning and the thunder clouds pissed rain down on the city. The storm rolling over Denver would be a disappointment most nights, but on this particular Tuesday in July it seemed extremely appropriate. A Pacific Northwest climate — warm, dark and wet — to welcome the almighty Yob.
Local grindmasters Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire had just taken the small stage at Larimer Lounge to a healthy hometown crowd with a short, but energetic warm up set. Frontman Ethan McCarthy seemed bigger than the venue itself as he barked undecipherable rage at the eager audience. Larimer Lounge is not known for hosting many extreme bands, usually sticking to up-and-coming indie and alt-country types, but this opening set proved the venue could cater to the black-and-denim crowd just as well as to the PBR-drinking hipsters that commonly occupy the back deck.
The 2-piece Dark Castle, from St. Augustine, Florida, were up next. This is an exciting extreme metal band that are commonly associated with doom metal, but really transcend the boundaries of doom and even metal in general. Fronted by the charismatic Stevie Floyd, you would be forgiven for not realizing those were female vocals if you weren’t standing two feet in front of her. Guitar in her tattooed hands, pedals below her tattooed legs, she displays a certain confidence beyond her years. The way she transitions between extreme despair, death growls, clean vocals and dream(nightmare)-scapes make it almost impossible to move your eyes to the left to witness the second member of the band. The animal at the drum kit is Rob Shaffer. Precise, with exaggerated movement — this guys does not only kill it at his craft, he puts on a show. Although the band had some technical difficulties with an amp after the first song, delaying the rest of the set by about 10 minutes, this was still a treat to watch. Six songs over about 40 minutes (not counting the technical interlude) were concluded with Awake In Sleep from their first album and just to get an idea of the pure power of the live show, check out this youtube video.
Full disclosure, I am not all that familiar with Yob. Of course I did my homework before the show but I by no means live and breathe this band. Last night, I was in the minority. Fans of Yob are a passionate and diverse bunch. Guys in vests with Mayhem patches, black doom and death t-shirts everywhere, long hairs, short hairs, dreads and glasses. Girls with tiny tank tops and tattoos. Even some older folks. Headbangers, hipsters and hippies all united under the banner of doom. This could have been a volatile crowd, but there was nothing but love — love of heavy, down-tuned, distorted doom – love of despair. And of course love of marijuana. This was the first time I’ve seen the Lounge filled to the rafters with smoke!
It was just after 11:00pm when Yob took the stage and barreled head-first into their first 10 minute composition. A slow burner that highlighted Mike’s ability to channel 70’s era stoner metal and death at the same time. Seamlessly transitioning between diverse types of metal and singing-styles like they were just meant to be together — like anything else would be wrong. This track put to rest any doubt that Rob was up to the task of filling in for Travis Foster (by the end of the set he also put to bed any doubt he could hold up through two sets of punishing doom).
Mike Scheidt has a funny disposition. With his long hair, beard and glasses, he really is the most unintimidating person you’ve ever met — and then he opens his mouth and all hell comes erupting out like molten lava and you have to ask yourself, ‘is that the same man who was just talking about how we’re all family here‘? Evidently it was and he was going to treat his family to a couple new tracks from the forthcoming album. Prepare the Ground was the one we all knew, having been premiered earlier in the month, but it was the title track that really blew me away! ‘this song is kind of a motherfucker’ And that it was! A doom anthem of sorts, the track came out kicking like an angry child on the playground before coming down with a gravity so strong that the small pit that had formed collapsed in on itself — a stand-alone crunchy riff that went on for eternity and still wasn’t long enough. A definite highlight of the night to my novice Yob ears and just another reason to look forward to the new album.
After a quick ‘cheers to a good night on planet Earth‘, the set ended with Doom #2 off The Illusion of Motion. ‘this will be our last one‘ The song ended as the clock struck midnight. There would be no need for a Yob-Yob-Yob chant though, the encore came before the band even left the stage — bringing this performance a quarter past the witching hour and leaving everyone in sweat soaked disarray.[After the set we were able to sit down with Mike from Yob and Stevie from Dark Castle. Originally these were going to be two separate interviews, but after watching Mike help Dark Castle with all their technical setup and troubleshooting before standing to the back of the stage headbanging through their full set, it was obvious there was a close relationship here. Stevie stood on the table at the merch booth and sang along with every word of Yob’s set. Not to mention they share a drummer on this tour. So Brain H and I sat down with the two and conducted an interview that turned into a casual discussion around Icelandic volcanoes, recording lyrics in an airplane bathroom, Death, Profound Lore and having no idea what the future holds]
How’s the tour going so far?
Mike: It’s going really well. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve toured. The first two shows we played in the Northwest we knew would be family shows; playing to people we play to a lot. We have Rob (Shaffer from Dark Castle, drumming for both bands on this tour) playing with us, so it seemed like a great thing to do. Rob came out of the gate hot. As the tour goes, our playing is just getting better and better and better. The Northwest shows were big because we’re from there. Coming across (the country) they’ve become smaller, but really passionate. Passionate people. Only 35 people in Salt Lake City but there’s no mistaking why they were there. We’re gonna play with Eagle Twin and we’re gonna play with Uzala in Idaho and Wolf Serpent. Every time we tour it’s so inspiring to play with these bands. You pick up new stuff and meet people — it’s been a long time since we’ve been out and tonight was really a high point so far.
How many times did you guys get to rehearse with Rob before you played a live show?
Mike: Four times. Four times. To his credit. To learn five songs for us is to play very dynamic –weird timings –long-winded stuff — a lot of nuances. He really came prepared. He took a lot of time and took it very seriously. So yeah, four times. We are now officially at eight times playing together.
I am always impressed with drummers, how well they can pick up on stuff sometimes.
Mike: Honestly, riffs are great. I love riffs, but a drummer can destroy them. Your drummer can make them shine; your drummer can also make them average. I often feel a band is only as good as their drummer. What Rob has done for us on this tour is stepped up and made it feel like Yob. I can play and I’m barely looking back at him. There’s stuff we’re still working out, like I’ll look back and go ‘no, it’s one more’ or ‘one less’ or whatever, but he’s so good that it’s fine. It’s the live environment. It’s the live thing, even the best of bands makes mistakes. We’re not concerned with it, it’s just rad that he’s so good already.
You mentioned you’re working through the two new songs you played tonight. They obviously sounded great, but what made you pick those two tracks from the five on the new album?
Mike: We threw so many songs at Rob. We sent him a list that was really unfair. Then we sent him the new record on top of that, after we sent him this mighty list. The goal was to have him gravitate toward certain songs. We told him ‘these songs have to happen’ and within that — find songs that move you. If they really move you, learn how to play them and then we’ll play them. When we sent the new record we said Prepare the Ground is getting premiered, so we really need to play that and it would be awesome if we could play the song Atma. The three other songs are very different compared to those two songs and if we had three more weeks we could have probably had more tunes, but I’m not disappointed in the least. Those two are really the hard hitting songs on the record and the other three; I don’t know — I never know what to think every time we record. We record music and make music that makes us really happy and then we send it out into the world and we have to let it go. It’s none of our business at that point. It’s up to the people what they want for themselves — if they like it or dislike it. It’s got nothing to do with us.
Yob has been around quite a while and there have been a couple different incarnations of the band. Do you look at the different line-ups as two different versions of the band or just a continuation of what you were doing?
Mike: That’s a really rad question. Yes and no. Yes, I see them as different incarnations because there were different phases of the band. We had the Elaborations line-up, the Catharsis line-up; we had The Illusion of Motion, The Unreal Never Lived, The Great Cessation, Atma line-up. Those are all different line-ups. We even had the demo line-up. I have been the constant. But every time the line-up has changed, it has gotten better. I think it’s maybe a combination of me getting clearer on my vision and what I want from the people I play with. It’s also the band growing and people who are heartfelt and really wanna do it becoming involved. It’s a new level every time. I’m really picky and I only play with my friends. There has to be a friendship first and then music comes second. The friends who have been coming together and playing are very skilled and they understand what we are doing and their heart is completely in the right place. So that’s the yes part of it, because it does seem the same. As the band has grown — I become much more comfortable with what we do and much more comfortable with our process. The band — Aaron is fucking incredible. Scott Kelly called him the new Cliff Burton. That is neither here nor there, however coming from the source, that’s pretty rad. Scott then recorded with us. Things have grown is such a great way that I have to say each line-up has really brought it to the next level.
Speaking of playing with friends, what is the connection between Dark Castle and Yob? How did Rob become the drummer for this tour?
Mike: We were playing Roadburn and right before that we released The Great Cessation and were signed to Profound Lore. Chris from Profound Lore is the most unassuming mover and shaker. That guy gets so much done with so little of himself invested. He’s invested in his heart, but as far as an ego, he’s not invested. He is a music fan first and foremost and he would occasionally send me stuff. ‘oh, you gotta hear this, you gotta hear this’ But he’s very picky about what he sends to me. He sent me a Dark Castle CD, Spirited Migration. Before I even listened to it I opened it up and read the lyrics and went ‘wow, we have a lot in common’. Then I heard the CD and was completely perplexed by it because there’s no reference to Black Sabbath in it — as far as a heavy doom band. I am trying to think of other bands that are like that and I’m not sure there are any. They play Hungarian and Japanese scales with a barre chord and they never play accidentals, so everything is very true to a scale. It makes them very unique and exotic. So immediately I said ‘wow, that’s a really great band’. Fast forward to Roadburn and they’re on tour with Kylesa. We hung out a little bit and made a great connection and had fun at the show and then they took off. Then the volcano happened and we were stuck in Europe for an extra two weeks. At first we were milling around like everyone else — like zombies in the Apocalypse — how are we all going to get home? After that we said ‘fuck this, we’re going to go have fun’, so we went to Amsterdam for a couple days. Then our booking agent calls and says ‘hey, you wanna go to Germany and play with Dark Castle, Eyehategod and Kylesa’ and we’re like ‘yeah, we do’. So we found a van and we made it happen. That was actually the first time we ever saw them. It was pretty much — we made the connection. Stevie and I made a very personal connection musically and we recorded a record together — she flew out and we recorded an ambient record. Then we started talking about doing a tour. It was many months in the making, it wasn’t an over night decision. We all really worked it out over a long period of time. And then our permanent drummer really had too much going on — it became a really obvious choice — with how much I respected Rob as drummer — that he would be the guy. As it worked out, he is and we’re on tour together and it’s great.
Great story. That leads me to a question for Stevie. Profound Lore is becoming more and more respected for pushing the boundaries of genres and even pushing beyond what ‘metal’ is. I feel Dark Castle exemplifies this cross-genre sound. If pressed, how would you explain Dark Castle’s sound?
Stevie: We listen to so many types of music that we don’t really try to write doom or metal or anything. We just write music and once you put in all the amplifiers and distortion, it just sounds that way. We are really influenced by multicultural scales — music that was around hundreds and hundreds of years ago — before heavy metal — even before blues. Everyone’s like ‘blues invented metal’ and I totally disagree. Maybe classical kinda did, but way before that it was so much Middle Eastern and Indian influences — I just try to draw inspiration from that. Ukulele records and sitar records. Their time signatures and their choice of notes — combination of notes — are just so beautiful. We’re so lucky now to have these books available to us. There’s books you can go buy at Barnes & Noble that have scales in them and it’s funny because not a lot of people use these. These combinations of notes have been around for centuries. That’s the original form of music to me. So, I always try to start at the source.
It sounds like your relationship with Mike and Yob has come from your relationship with Chris and Profound Lore. How did you get signed with Profound Lore and how has that relationship been?
Stevie: I met Chris at SXSW and he’s like ‘I love your band and I want to put out your next record’ and I was like ‘damn dude, fuck yeah!’ That guy has the best taste in music ever. Everything he ever puts out is so eclectic, eccentric, artistic — completely different from — it doesn’t fit into any genre. It seems everything he puts out doesn’t really fit — it transcends all genres of music and I love it. I think what I said to him was ‘I love your taste in music!’. And then of course, they put out Yob and Yob’s been one of my favorite bands since their first album Elaborations of Carbon. One of my favorites.
What have you been listening to recently? On this tour?
Stevie: On this tour? I don’t want to answer that. (laughs) I would say I have a lot of different favorite bands, but ever since I met Mike he’s turned me on to so many of my new favorite bands — Rune Magic, one of the best death metal bands I’ve ever heard in my life. They just take the cake on weird timings and completely out-there psychedelic choice of notes and combination of chords, but it’s so primal and raw and caveman at the same time. The new Inquisition, we both love that. The new Ulcerate…
Mike: Destroyers of All! Special.
Stevie: Yeah, they are doing something I have never heard death metal do. My favorite death metal band of all time is Death. Hands down. Rob too. His favorite death metal band is pretty much Death. Morbid Angel is right behind it. Death just reaches places nobody has ever touched and no one ever will — musically, the melodies, the scales they use, the feeling, the space in between, the contrast between riffs and the solos, his lyrics, his enunciation with his vocals, the passion behind it — nobody will ever touch Chuck Schuldiner, I don’t care who you are, nobody will ever touch that guy.
What’s your favorite Death album?
Stevie: I hate that question. Their first few were legendary death metal records. Everyone’s like ‘Leprosy, yeah!’ ‘Scream Bloody Gore…that’s rad!’ And they’re fucking staples in that world, but honestly my three favorites — I don’t care what anyone says — Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance. I understand why a lot of people don’t give those a chance, but they’re so transcendent. No one can ever touch them. He wrote The Sound of Perseverance when he knew he had a brain tumor! And he’s dying! And his vocals are on fire and out-of-control! Those are my three favorite albums of all time — probably.
You mentioned you recorded an album together. Is this something that is going to be released?
Mike: We’ve been selling it on our own and there’s an excerpt from it on the new Dark Castle record. We call it Spirit Ritual. The expert is probably 3 ½ minutes long on the record, the actual song is probably 22 minutes. It was very fun to record. Very stream-of-consciousness. It turned out vastly different than either of us thought going into it.
Stevie: I think we showed up trying to play guitar and do this heavy thing. It was the first time we’d ever really hung out, one-on-one. It was totally different. We had singing bowls out. Then we wound up putting all the guitars completely obsolete — vocal harmonies, he’d go high, I’d go low, I’d go high, he’d go low. I don’t know, it was magical. It’s very raw…
Last one for both of you. Obviously, Yob has a new album coming out and Dark Castle’s was just released, but after this tour, what’s next for either band?
Mike: We do have a European tour and that’s coming up in September and October. But as far as Yob, plans for the new album or goals for the new album, we have none. We’ve always been a band of no goals. It’s not a philosophy; it just literally is that. We don’t have goals. We have opportunities. We are blessed by them and we look at them and we go ‘can we do this or can we not do this?”. Some we take, some we don’t take. I have always felt the music has a life of its own and when we send it out there it’s not ours in a way. We have just been lucky enough to have some very cool things happen that have allowed us to get back on the road again many years later. As far as what our new record does or what will become of it, or what will become of us when we get back from Europe — I have no idea. Zero.
Stevie: I am so stoked to be on this tour and the European tour, but we’re in the same boat. Dark Castle — we just do whatever is in front of us. If something sounds fun or we’re like ‘yeah, we wanna go on tour with this band!’ we do it. If we’re feeling a recording, we do it. Rob and I are always writing; we always have tab books and lyric books on us. We always have music written. When we came together to write this new album — it’s all over the place. Everyone always asks me ‘why is it all over the place? Why does it sound like 10,000 things going on?’ It’s because we were in 10,000 different atmospheres over the last year and a half.
Mike: That’s what makes their records incredible though. It’s not just a sound, it’s a plethora of sounds but it is cohesive.
Stevie: It sounds so stupid, but I always get so inspired when I’m on an airplane — I swear to god I have gone in the bathroom on the airplane and had this moment where I have to record this lyric and I’ve gone it there and recorded it on my phone. Whenever I’m inspired it’s so important for me to have my book there. When you take all those different situations and you’re in different vibes and different places and different moments in time — then when you do write an album you’re bringing all those different environments together. It’s maybe a little hard to have transitions. Transitions are probably the most important thing to us — taking all these different styles of music and making them transition together. That is the hardest part. It’s always what we are working on the most…
I guess your question was ‘where are we going or whatever?’ I don’t know, I don’t know — Dark Castle is just what it is. Maybe it’ll go on for 10 years or be gone tomorrow, I don’t know.