pro·found [pruh-found] adjective
penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding
lore [lawr, lohr] noun
the body of knowledge, especially of a traditional, anecdotal, or popular nature, on a particular subject
If you are the type of person who prefers your music shroud in an air of mystery, it might disturb you to learn that the most exciting, innovative label in the extreme scene exists not in some secret lair, but amidst a peaceful piece of land outside of Toronto, Canada. Yes, you read that right – peaceful Canada. No need to worry though, let’s just use our imaginations for a moment here – picture a land covered in ice and snow year-round; a pack of hungry gray wolves stalk the perimeter; there is a dark path that leads to a river flowing red with the blood of those who have dared cross into this forsaken realm, and the sole inhabitant sits upon his throne, gold chalice in hand, surrounded by his most prized spoils of war (vinyl), all while The Gault’s Even as All Before Us rings out across the horizon as the sun sets for the last time.
The label is Profound Lore. The man with the imaginary chalice is Chris Bruni — owner, operator and sole proprietor responsible for an incredibly impressive catalog of CDs and vinyl from some of the most forward-thinking artists in extreme music.
After I wrote the profile on Southern Lord last year, I knew I wanted to do another, but I didn’t want to just choose a label at random. So instead of going on the hunt for something to write about, I just kept my eyes open, always paying close attention to what labels were releasing my favorite albums. It was quickly evident that Profound Lore would be the subject of this profile. While other labels are releasing exciting material across a variety of genres, the Profound Lore logo is essentially a guarantee of something intriguing lurking inside. No less than seven PFL releases made my ‘best of 2011’ list. No other label even came close. Over the past few years Chris has proved himself the best pair of ears in the scene – he can do no wrong. A quick browse through the ‘best metal albums’ lists will reveal something that no amount of advertising could ever buy – fans, bloggers and critics agree that 2011 was the year of the Lore.
But it takes more than good (even great) LPs to make a story. Why not just talk about the bands that are actually creating this music? Why should you care about the business behind the scenes? Who give a shit about royalties and distribution and all that crap? These are all valid questions. They are the reason I wouldn’t be writing about just any label. The story of Profound Lore is interesting because there is really nothing “profound” about it. It is just the story of a small town kid who became obsessed with the extreme – with pushing his limits to a sonic breaking point, and then pushing them even further. A kid who experimented with creating music, but had all the fun smashed out of it by overbearing teachers. Instead of setting out to form a band and produce the record of his dreams, he made it his mission to facilitate the creation of many records by many bands and get those records into the hands of thousands of people across the globe. This story is interesting because the majority of us who have a palate for the darker, more changeling material, grew up just like Chris, although most of us only dreamed about doing what he has actually done.
Chris Bruni grew up in Mississauga, Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area. He would discover music through older people he’d be around, most notably older family members (i.e. cousins) and people at school. Through such individuals he would be exposed to such bands as Rush, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. This would lead to an obsession with The Power Hour’s heavy metal videos, which led to Judas Priest, which led to Iron Maiden, which led to Slayer, which led to death metal, which led to black metal and so on and so on. Replace Mississauga with Auburn, CA, The Power Hour with Headbanger’s Ball, and cousins with a few older friends (one whom was in the Navy and brought vinyl back from Japan) and you have my story. Chris had Toronto not too far away; I was more fortunate to have San Francisco. But when you are living at home and are too young to drive, those cities and the shows they host are out of reach anyway. Tape trading, zines and mainstream record stores were all we had to discover new music.
A whole new world was opened up to me when I moved to San Diego and got into the all-ages club scene, and it was about that time when I turned my back on metal as I felt metal had done to me. Punk and hardcore were my new thing. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came back around and realized what was happening in the scene. Chris stuck by metal though, he delved deeper into original death metal and followed it through to black metal and everything beyond. He started writing for a few mags up in Canada – continuing down that path for quite a few years before becoming burnt out on journalism. With nothing else going on in his life, Chris decided to utilize the contacts he had in the industry to start a hobby vinyl label with a few partners. Chris and (the late) Adrian Bromley would work on licensing releases from other labels, the accountant would deal with the finances, and the other guy would serve various functions. It was with this partnership, a love of vinyl, a business bank account and a little money that Profound Lore came to be.
The first project for the newly created Profound Lore Records was a 10″ by a black metal band based in the Middle East. The Ziggurat Scrolls had a scheduled release date of June 26th, 2004 — coinciding with Melechesh’s headlining slot for Northern Lights 2004 at Club Rockit in Toronto. Although the final product was not finished in time to be offered at the show, this limited release was the first step in becoming a label with no boundaries — nation, genre or otherwise. Year One for Profound Lore also saw the vinyl release of Anders Nyström’s 1996 Diabolical Masquerade debut, as well as Leviathan’s controversial Tentacles of Whorror — setting the stage for Wrest’s future relationship with the label amidst some very dark times and even further controversy in Chicago in 2011.
The next year saw Chris and his partners following the same format — building on prior relationships with a focus on vinyl and re-releasing material from known artists in order to establish a name in the market. Three of these artists would go on to help define the future of the label — Agalloch, Wold and Portal. These three bands represent very different schools within the extreme scene — black metal, noise and death metal respectively — yet they all meet the criteria for a Profound Lore band. By pushing the boundaries of their chosen mode of expression, they essentially exist outside of the ever cyclical cycles of trends that plague so many in the music industry.
The first full year of business came to a close with an already impressive catalog of vinyl, including Agalloch’s The Mantle and Pale Folklore, Ulver’s Blood Inside and Leviathan’s Tentacles of Whorror. The next few months would see Nachtmystium’s Instinct: Decay and a live Isis album added to that list. But all this vinyl led some to speculate Profound Lore was nothing more than a specialty label. This might have been the direction the other partners wanted to go, but Chris had other aspirations. So, it was in mid-2006 that Profound Lore became a one-man operation. The partners moved on to other things, allowing Chris to follow his dream — to build a label around his admiration for Peaceville Records, Misanthropy Records, Deathlike Silence, ’89-’91 Earache, Southern Lord, 4AD, Mute and SubPop — a label unique in sound, packaging and aesthetic. Chris Bruni was not willing to settle for some ‘hobby label’ licensing rights from others, he wanted to build something of his own.
Asunder’s Works Will Come Undone would act as Profound Lore’s mission statement moving forward. Again, I don’t mean this in terms of genre, as funeral doom only makes up a small fraction of the Profound Lore catalog, but more in terms of a word I will probably use too often in this profile, aesthetic. Works Will Come Undone has two tracks and a runtime of well over an hour. It is not an easy listen by any means, but it is rich in rewards for those who take the time to bury themselves in the slow, miserable flow of Oakland’s only astrological doom outfit. With this release, an era of originality had begun…
With Chris firmly in charge of the label, there were many changes to come. First off, Profound Lore would now focus solely on CD releases of original material. Some might say this was a risky decision in a time when digital downloads were dealing the death blow to record stores worldwide, but Chris had a plan (at least one would assume he did). This plan involved only releasing quality, forward-thinking music wrapped in quality, visually-appealing packaging. Instead of being in the business of distributing music in the ‘least expensive/most profitable’ way, the label would be in the business of creating a certain aesthetic (or brand) within the scene. Fans (consumers) would want to ‘physically own’ what Profound Lore was selling, and the artists would want the Profound Lore treatment to augment their music. This packaging, paired with flexible contracts based on a mutual respect between band and label, Chris’s ability to properly predict and set expectations for sales, and extremely reasonable prices, led to a successful situation — a situation in which Chris Bruni was able to quit his shitty day job, move out of his shitty city, and pursue the future of his label full time.
In the first few years of the one-man label, Profound Lore was built by Chris’s impeccable ear and absolute integrity — no trend need be followed, no huge advertising budget necessary, and the proliferation of illegal downloading didn’t hurt (as bad) as it did the big labels because the fans wanted to hold the product in their hands — they wanted a relationship with the music that went beyond the soulless 1’s and 0’s of an mp3. From 2007 – 2009, Profound Lore put out 35 releases, establishing a mutual trust between label, artist and fan, which in turn allowed the label to grow considerably (on a financial, roster and aesthetic level) year-over-year.
It was during this time that a duo from Colorado were trying (and failing) to find a home for their black metal masterpiece, Eater of Birds — when other labels were turning their backs, Chris took a chance based on his personal opinion that the album was absolutely groundbreaking work. Profound Lore also continued to work with Portal during this time, even though the masses were leaning toward the digitally enhanced tech death. The name Krallice hadn’t been heard outside the five boroughs before they released their first two albums during this period, and now they are guaranteed to move thousands of CDs with every release. It’s probably safe to say these were slightly good decisions, but if you need proof, consider the fact that when the almighty YOB decided to come out of hibernation, Mike Scheidt decided The Great Cessation should wear the Profound Lore logo.
The Gates of Slumber, Altar of Plagues, Amber Asylum, Worm Ouroboros, Impetuous Ritual, Winterfylleth, Caïna, Wold…by the end of his first three years managing everything from signing bands to filling mail orders to unloading trucks, Chris Bruni had taken his little ‘hobby’ label into the big time (in extreme independent terms) — it got to a point where the roster was built almost entirely on referrals, setting the stage for some pretty amazing achievements at the turn of the century…
It wasn’t until the early Winter months of 2010 that Agalloch dropped the album of the new decade — Marrow of the Spirit. Arguably the best collection of tracks this Pacific Northwest band has ever released, it wasn’t officially available until November 23rd, thus sending critics and bloggers scrambling to reorder their ‘best of’ lists. Profound Lore might not judge the success of an album based on sales, so it might not be newsworthy that Agalloch’s first original release on the label was it’s best selling to date, but the album is important in a variety of other ways. Marrow is a masterpiece of epic (dare I say, Cascadian) proportions. This is not just my opinion, it is the majority opinion. When Agalloch’s first full length in over 4 years made Decibel’s Album of the Year — when it took 1st place in publications and blogs around the world — it was not only a huge win for the enigmatic band from Portland, it was also a huge win for Profound Lore. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and let Marrow of the Spirit overshadow the ten months that came before…
The old school, Southern death duo of O.A. and Antinom split the year wide open with Vasaeleth’s Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin, and a run of no less than 15 releases led up to the (tragic) final release from Virgina doom trio Salome. This busiest of years in the business also saw Aesop Dekker’s ‘other’ band release their final statement, The Tenant (another contender for my album of the year). Coffinworm’s When All Became None, The Howling Wind’s Into the Cryosphere, Slough Feg’s The Animal Spirits, the latest from Chris Black’s Dawnbringer project…the 2010 catalog talks (screams until it’s vocal chords are busted and bloody) for itself, but there are other aspects of the year that are worth noting…
2010 was the year Profound Lore came out from behind the curtain. Chris, a self-professed control-freak and workaholic, took the trip down to Austin to participate in the annual SXSW event. Teaming up with 20 Buck Spin, the Headhunters showcase included Dark Castle, Salome, Coffinworm, Yakuza and The Atlas Moth, and it was a raging success. Chris also took the time to speak on a music panel for Scion — a car company with a corporate agenda for sure, but you can’t deny their ability to organize some pretty hardcore showcases for the right price of ‘free!’.
It was also around this time that social media became a major outlet for the label. With MySpace becoming one of the shittiest platforms on the Internet, Chris embraced other forms of communication, including Facebook and Twitter. Always against online advertising, Chris immediately realized the benefit of this new platform. The Profound Lore community at large had grown into a massive marketing machine. Tweet about an upcoming release to 650 people (who legitimately want to know this information), and in turn they will retweet it to an exponential audience. Keeping his finger on the pulse of this new social society has not only allowed Profound Lore to successfully market artists and bands to a focused demographic, it has also provided predictive analysis as to how well a release might do, therefore suggesting how many units to press. The irony of it all is that the platform responsible for the castration of the corporate media label is the same platform that allows Chris to follow his inherent instincts and personal tastes to run a successful business.
SXSW, Twitter, Facebook, challenging music, list-topping releases from groundbreaking bands — all of these factors fed into the system, creating a massive flood of respect and acclaim from outlets as diverse as NPR, Cvlt Nation, Decibel, New York Times, Invisible Oranges and Metal Review, making 2010 a ‘coming-of-age’ year for Profound Lore Records.
This year past might have failed to see an album bump Agalloch off their profound throne, but overall I believe 2011 solidified itself as the most exciting year the label has ever seen. Mitochondrion opened the year with a claustrophobic crash-course in insanity; Loss delivered the funeral doom album I had no idea I needed; Dark Castle’s Surrender to All Life Beyond Form was the underrated release of the year; KEN Mode are on the short list for a Juno Award; SubRosa shook the very core of the Earth while putting Salt Lake City on the map; Krallice fulfilled the needs of their fans with a new album as well as participating in Decibel’s Flexi Series; the almighty YOB returned with another doom masterpiece in Atma, while Disma dug some filthy death from the worm infested soil and sold more albums than were available to sell. 2011 might have missed that ‘album of the year’ release, but well over half of the catalog made Top 10 lists across the board.
Profound Lore’s Facebook page hit a landmark 5,000 followers while the Twitter account (650 in mid-2010) is now pushing 4,000. The Bandcamp page has been integrated into Facebook and has a legitimate storefront offering a sizable catalog for those who prefer their music in digital form, while those on the opposite side of the spectrum welcomed the long awaited return to vinyl with limited pressings of Dawnbringer’s Nucleus, Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit and SubRosa’s No Help for the Mighty Ones. Rites of Darkness pulled itself from brink of disaster with the help of many Profound Lore bands, including Texas-sized performances from Mitochondrion and Pallbearer. But if I were pressed to choose one event that will burn itself into the history books of this extreme year, it would be the controversy surrounding the resurrection of Leviathan.
The truth of what took place on that particular night in January of 2011 will forever live inside the mind of Jef Whitehead and his accuser; all we can know for sure is what happened in the aftermath. Whitehead, a tattoo and black metal artist also known as Wrest, was arrested and accused of criminal sexual assault and aggravated domestic battery. When details of the accusations were released, there were those who called for the destruction of Wrest’s material – the burning of Leviathan, Twilight and Lurker of Chalice albums. Wrest took on the role of an American Varg Vikernes almost overnight – all before one shred of evidence was presented against him. Even though he was eventually exonerated of all charges, it would still prove risky to associate oneself (or label) with Jef Whitehead, no matter what name he recorded under. But that’s just what Chris did. Whitehead needed an outlet for the drama inflicted upon his being, so he became Wrest again and recorded a new Leviathan album. And as if to make his detractors choke on their own words, he titled it True Traitor, True Whore. This album was released to mixed reviews, but I believe it will go down as a true personal document of a man facing the destruction of the self – it will go down as a masterpiece of sorts, pushing the boundaries of just how far this label is willing to go to achieve the extreme, all while keeping with an aesthetic that is Profound Lore’s alone.
As the new year unfolds we will see Profound Lore expand its catalog by about 20 new releases, making it the busiest year in the history of the label. Abstaining from SXSW and Maryland Death Fest will provide more time to focus on supporting and headlining tours, as well as smaller showcases and festivals — including ‘long time in the coming’ live appearances from Cobalt. You can also count on a strong presence at 2013’s Rites of Darkness.
In the coming months Chris will continue to battle the exorbitant postage costs in Canada with the vinyl treatment of Cobalt’s Gin and Leviathan’s True Traitor, True Whore, but for those of you against shipping and handling costs, you can expect more and more releases to show up on the label’s Bandcamp page. Although, it doesn’t really matter what format you prefer, because there is plenty to look forward to for everyone, starting with the long awaited debut from Little Rock, Arkansas’s doom bringing Pallbearer; Sorrow And Extinction will be available on February 21st, making it the first original release of 2012 (it shares a date with the CD release of Witch Mountain’s South of Salem).
Contrary to what you might have heard, Cobalt’s Slow Forever probably won’t see the light of day until 2013, but Erik Wunder will be back in short time with Man’s Gin. You’d also do well to save you pennies for Spring, because not only will Evoken deliver another document of dissolution, but Dawnbringer will also be releasing the follow-up to Nucleus with Into the Lair of the Sun God. The Mammifer / Locrian collaboration will also be available, as will Occultation’s (members of Negative Plane) debut of doom. And Spring just wouldn’t be complete without Come the Thaw, the latest from the supergroup of sorts, Worm Ouroboros.
Portal’s latest opus of death will be released this Summer, along with the sophomore album from Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch. New releases from Coffinworm and Vasaeleth should provide the perfect soundtrack to those hot Summer nights spent desecrating graveyards, while California’s Ash Borer will see if they can recreate the universal acclaim garnered by their eponymous debut with another black metal masterpiece this Fall. New progressive sounds from Dysrhythmia and Yakuza are on the horizon as well, and as if that wasn’t enough, you can also count on some ear abusing sounds from Indesinence and Aldebaran. All in all, it should be another great year in Lore.
Let’s start from the beginning. How did Profound Lore get started?
I had previously been writing for several metal publications so I had connections within the scene. These were mostly with labels and publicists and whatnot. Through the writing I got to know a lot of bands on a somewhat personal level. I really had nothing going for me at the time so going back to school was one of my main goals. I was at a period in my life where I was kind of at a standstill.
What were you going back to school for? Did it have anything to do with music or running a label?
It was for corporate communications – public relations. The goal was to enter a really prestigious post-grad program at one of the universities here. I got into a program where you’re guaranteed a job two months after graduation. I wanted to get a full time job in that field and do the label as a side thing, but before I went back to school the label was started. A few partners and I had a bunch of money saved up and we were avid vinyl collectors. We thought “hey let’s start a hobby label – we’ll do limited edition vinyl – we’ll approach bands we know personally and come up with some ideas and license stuff off the labels we know”. We already had a familiarity with certain individuals and people within the scene — bands with a name that could get the label reputable. There were four of us in the beginning, now it’s only me, which is for the better. That’s essentially how it came to be.
When you say only you, are you the sole employee of Profound Lore Records?
I have a graphics guy who I employ to do my ads and any type of graphic material. If bands need someone separate to do their album layout, I can get my guy to do it. Sometimes I will hire an outside publicist to do publicity, but only for some of my releases.
So all aspects of the business, even stuff like mail order, are run by you?
It’s just me. I essentially have a routine. Every morning I get up and do mail order. Obviously, when a release comes out it’s going to be a little busier, but usually I’ll start selling a new release on a Friday and the bigger releases will keep me busy throughout the weekend. Sunday’s kinda my work night I guess – if I am not doing anything else, I’ll just prepare everything for Monday morning. I take care of mail order first thing in the morning. It is pretty steady, but it varies. When I released the limited Agalloch vinyl, the limited color edition, exclusively through my website, I was a zombie the whole weekend. Something like that I could not handle every day. Obviously I’d have to take some sort of action in hiring an actual person to look out for mail order if there were volumes like that every day. Even when the Agalloch CD version went on sale last November it was crazy — that weekend was nuts. Insane. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to handle that by myself on a regular basis.
At what point did running the label become a full time job?
It was about two years ago. Literally two years ago about this time. I had a day job where I was the most miserable person in the world…
Do you mind saying what that job was?
An older friend of mine owned a box distribution company with his brother-in-law. A real small company. I worked for them. It was just retarded. So depressing. My health deteriorated working there because I’d get up early in the morning, do some label stuff, then go to the job. I’d get back home exhausted, and then work on the label at night. I had no time to properly exercise or do anything active. Then I got to the point where I thought I’d try to do the label full time. I moved away to a remote area just to give a new environment to myself and the label. I live in a really nice quiet area outside of the city.
Are you in Mississauga now?
No, no, I moved from Mississauga two years ago. I can’t stand that place. I grew up and spent my entire live there. A couple friends and their wives moved away — we all wanted to get away, so that’s basically when I quit my day job. I actually did apply to a few places for part time work because I didn’t know how the income was going to come in with just the label on its own. But then I thought “you known what, I can’t be bothered”.
Was there a release, or multiple releases that put you over the edge? That got you to a point where you thought ‘this can be a full time job now’?
Not really. There was no specific release where I saying “hey, now I can do the label full time”. Obviously working with a band like Agalloch is a full time job in itself, right? Or YOB. But I think it was a culmination of things. I do have certain turning point releases on my label, but I don’t consider them turning points as in “that’s the release that brought a lot of revenue in”. I don’t look at it that way. I look at turning point releases as an aesthetic turning point for the label. There hasn’t really been a breakthrough release of mine that totally bankrolled the label. It’s never like that. As much as a band like Agalloch or YOB can sell, I don’t really see it that way. I DO NOT see it as “ok, I have breadwinner band here”. Everything is a culmination of everything — a big snowball effect that led to this point where I can do this full time now. Things are steady now. That’s how it all works.
How did your relationship with Agalloch begin?
I actually released the first two albums on vinyl years ago – so I’ve had a relationship with them. I’d interviewed Agalloch in the past as well, so I’d kinda known them from my metal journalism – I’ve known them for a while. They have a close circle of friends in which I guess I’m a part of. It’s more comfortable for them working with me in that they are working with a friend — a close friend of theirs. They’re not really comfortable working with these big corporate-minded labels or whatnot.
From what I have read, that makes sense. They seem to keep to themselves and let their music speak for them.
Exactly. And the music does speak for itself. The working relationship I have with Agalloch is great. We get along, we meet all the agreements we make, and everything is fulfilled. Agalloch are in pretty good shape. They are never going to be in debt and they are always going to get their royalty payments on time. So it’s quite easy working with them. If Agalloch have a concern with me, it’s just addressed right away.
You have mentioned Agalloch and YOB quite a bit, but do you have a band that you’ve been working with since the beginning – a band you’ve really seen grow over the years?
Definitely Cobalt and Portal. Because when I first released them no one really took all that much notice. It took a while for that to build up, and now they are two of my higher selling bands. I would say Cobalt and Portal are the bands I have seen really develop a reputation. The next Portal album is gonna sell more than anything we’ve done previous – that I’ve confident of – and then the next Cobalt is definitely going to sell even more than anything they’ve done previous. There isn’t anything waning with those acts.
Where are things with Cobalt right now? I know one member is here in Colorado and I believe the other is still overseas, correct?
Phil has done his service in Iraq, which is great. So Cobalt will become a focus. They are currently writing the next full-length which will be entitled Slow Forever. I think this could see a Spring/early Summer 2013 release date at the pace they are going. Things are productive in the Cobalt camp for sure. I think the main priority now is to get the Gin vinyl out and for the band to begin playing live. None of them are living in Greeley, where they are from. Eric lives in Brooklyn, and Phil is living in Kansas because that’s where he is stationed.
Are you a musician yourself?
I have musical training; I did play piano with the Royal Conservatory. I have an understanding of music. I haven’t played the piano in a while – there was so much pressure – this was like more pressure than anything school related. I had never felt any pressure like this. It was hard to enjoy that aspect of it. I quit by the time I could read music and had my technique. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. But yeah, I do have musical training. I have an understanding…
So why extreme music?
Again, it’s a snowball effect – start off with a band like early Metallica or Slayer and then start listening to heavier thrash bands and then death metal. Death metal came in the early 90’s, right? That was an awaking, of course. And when you get sick of death metal you start looking for something new. It was black metal. That was an eye opening thing. Listening to those early Darkthrone albums. The early Emperor stuff. Mayhem. I mean, that was really eye opening! There would be days that I would just listen to that. And from there it kinda flowed everywhere. Whatever came. There were certain moments when I would just look for the most extreme, brutal thing out there to try to test my listening threshold. I guess that’s what it all boils down to — the process of thinking – the process of trying to see where your limits are sonically. What you can handle? What you can take? Keep pushing it…
Where did the name Profound Lore come from?
There is no big meaning behind it. It was found on the fly by a former partner of mine. “How about Profound Lore? Yeah, that’s cool.” It’s what we all agreed on. That’s literally the story of that. There was no brainstorming, no going back and forth, that’s just how the name came to be.
Why did your partners leave the label?
Two of them thought the label was growing too fast – it was too much for them. When I started getting more involved – I really wanted to get more involved – they just wanted it to be a hobby. My other partner was moving away and he wanted to do stuff that didn’t really fit the label. I think he finally realized that and asked me to buy him out.
Did any of them stick with music or labels?
No. Not at all.
Can you walk me through the timeline of the label? What do you consider milestone events/releases since its founding in 2004?
Working with Portal, definitely. The Asunder album I released, Works Will Come Undone — that was a turning point definitely. Working with, and doing some of those limited vinyl releases with Agalloch and Leviathan – those are turning points. But I think Asunder was the release that reflected the direction of the label. Obviously Cobalt’s Eater of Birds was a definite turning point release for me as well because it was probably one of the most incredible things I’d heard at the time. The band was shopping the album around. It had been recorded for a while but every other label blew them off. When I heard it I thought “what the hell is this?” It was the sickest thing ever! So I’d say Eater of Birds was a definite turning point. Obviously the YOB album, The Great Cessation – their comeback album – was a turning point in terms of label recognition — it helped elevate the label.
I guess the answers could be the same, but what releases are you most proud of?
Definitely Cobalt’s Eater of Birds as for past releases. Recent, recent releases? Obviously the Agalloch album, that’s a no-brainer. Personally I think it’s their best album. On an objective level, coming from someone who’s listened to the band from the beginning, I think Marrow of the Spirit is their masterpiece. Definitely. What else? I’m always proud of any of the Portal albums. Castevet’s Mounds of Ash is another one I’m really proud of. And of course, the new Leviathan album; no matter what people think of it, I’m very proud of it as well.
Portal are from Australia. You also have bands from the Bay Area, New York, Canada and many points between. How do you find your talent?
It’s all based on referrals from musicians I know — people who I trust and respect their tastes. Sometimes other musicians will email me saying “hey, wanna work together?” Some of these more well know musicians are signed to a label, but they’ll have a side-project or something, so they’ll approach me for that. But it’s pretty much a referral thing.
Who would you like to work with that you are not working with right now?
Since you asked me now, right off the top of my head I’d say Grave Miasma and Chelsea Wolfe are the first to come to mind.
Decibel, being the only real print magazine in the U.S today, is very positive on most Profound Lore releases, as are the blogs. Do you think your exposure is still driven from magazines like Decibel, or is it more from online media and independent blogs?
I think it’s a bit of both. Decibel is a very influential magazine here. The stuff that doesn’t get a good review sometimes suffers. I don’t know it that’s because of Decibel. I’m not sure. There have been times when they’ve got writers to review my stuff and those writers have absolutely no clue about the style of music or the people in the band – they are just clueless. I don’t like when that happens. It’s funny, a buddy of mine writes for them and he emailed me and said “hey, I have to review the new Antediluvian album”, and I’m thinking “why the hell?” Why did they pick him to do this? He’s not going to like this album. I mean, I don’t know if he’s going to like it or not, but it’s not what he’s into. I’m like “fuck!” I can’t really afford that. It did help when they named Agalloch’s Marrow of the Spirit the album of the year though. That helped to some extent. But really, it’s kinda tough to gauge…
I’d imagine it’s tough because Decibel really is the only print media out there now. I had a long conversation around this with Greg from Southern Lord, who of course has had a different experience with Decibel.
Yeah, I’m curious about that. I don’t know how Greg feels about it all but he’s always seemed confident. But it kinda hurt when magazines like Unrestrained and Metal Maniacs went under. Unrestrained and Metal Maniacs are the other two magazines that would cover this underground, extreme music. Even Bravewords went under. When these all went under it was a blow to some of these underground labels who advertised in those magazines and had bands featured in those magazines. So now it’s only Decibel – the only one left. Whereas Europe has forty, maybe fifty main magazines that cover this stuff, we only have one.
Speaking of other underground extreme labels, is there a comradery between you all? Are you friends? Competitors? Both? For example, do you know Greg Anderson? Is there any relationship there?
I’ve known Greg for a bit, we don’t talk much but we’ll of course hang out if we run into each other at some fest or event. I do deal with a few other labels like Dave at 20 Buck Spin, Adam at Gilead, Jonathan at The Flenser, A.V. at Nuclear Winter, and Matt at Dark Descent to name a few. And for the bigger labels, sometimes I’ll shoot the shit on occasion with Michael of Season Of Mist.
What issues have you had to overcome as a label head? Do you have any regrets?
It’s hard to say if I have any regrets because everything is a learning process for the label – something you’ve got to take in stride. Some releases don’t do as well as others, so I might be like “why the fuck did I press this many CDs?” or “why did I only press this many?” The culmination of stuff like that – not really like “why did I work with this band?” There is no one big regret. I can’t think of one big regret that affected me big time.
I’ve read interviews where you’ve cited disappointment in some of your bands calling it quits before their time. In one of these you mentioned exciting things would come from the Ludicra breakup, any news on that?
Nothing I can confirm yet, but everyone is now busy with their own bands respectively, so at least all members are remaining active in music.
[talking about the early, limited vinyl release, etc.]
Everything I have released is a Profound Lore release, but there are some I don’t really consider a part of the label anymore.
When I did those [early vinyl releases] I only pressed 500 of each of The Mantle and Pale Folklore, and it’s not like they sold out in a couple days. They took months to sell out. Now they go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. I think I remember reading about the first time Southern Lord released a Sunn O))) album on vinyl. I think 500 were pressed and they couldn’t move them. They were just sitting there. And now you do 500 copies of a Sunn O))) vinyl and it will sell out in a matter of hours.
How do you respond to some of the controversy about some of your bands? A couple examples that come to mind are Jef Whitehead’s legal problems and detractor’s labeling Krallice as hipster metal?
If you look up the definition of hipster – what a hipster is – and you look at the guys in Krallice, they are the complete opposite. Those guys are the most unfashionable and untrendiest guys in metal. So I have no idea. Fuck if I know.
And Jef Whitehead?
Jef Whitehead’s an interesting case. Number one, I’m a firm believer that he didn’t do what he was accused of. There was going to be concrete evidence and witnesses in his favor. At the same time, Whitehead is not a friendly looking guy. His music is not friendly. He makes psychotic black metal. So that’s something he can’t really escape. I consider Jef Whitehead one of the top artists today. Whether it’s tattooing, painting or music. I think he’s one of these mad genius artists. Like I said, he’s an intimidating guy – a really nice guy, but he paints himself in, I don’t want to say a negative light, but a bit of an intriguing light.
I recently read his interview on Pitchfork where he got away without really saying anything…
I have two words for that, classic Whitehead. To those who know him, it was the greatest interview ever. That’s an interview of legendary status. If you ask me my three favorite quotes from metal musicians last year, all of them would come from that interview. That interview has created such a reaction – it’s pretty cool how it has polarized a lot of people. I am proud to be working with a guy like Jef Whitehead. Part of the reason for the label’s existence is to work with guys like him. Jef Whitehead is twisted in his own little ways. He’s controversial and whatnot. He’s a dark individual. But those are qualities I like in an artist. It’s not supposed to be pretty. It should be dangerous and threatening in a way, and Jef is going to do whatever he wants with his music and art. I think True Traitor, True Whore is a cool album title. It’s very John Cassavetes and in a very morbid way it fits with black metal.
How do you explain your success in 2011? 17 releases and not one that hasn’t received universal positive reviews. Has this been one of your best years overall?
I think so, definitely. There are different levels of success — critical success, revenue success, and then just an aesthetic level. I definitely think it was a great year. I didn’t have a big Agalloch album release, but I had a Leviathan album. That was a goal in itself. I have always wanted to work with Jef and Leviathan in some way, one way or another, and being free from his previous contract allowed me to do so. I do not know what kind of contract he signed with the last label, but now it’s cool that I can finally work with him and release an actual Leviathan album. Whatever people think of this album, it’s very important that he did it. He’s been in a very dark place. Doing this music inspired him to be creative again. Now he’s psyched to do more music. It was very important for him to get this album off his chest – do music again, record music again – and now he’s inspired to do more music. That’s very important to keep him stable. So yeah, got the YOB album, the Leviathan, the Krallice…
And maybe not as big, but Dark Castle, SubRosa and Loss all released amazing albums. And of course, Disma.
Disma is selling really well and the SubRosa still continues to gain momentum as more people keep on discovering them; it’s definitely been a consistent seller all throughout the year.
What are you most looking forward to in the new year?
I’m most looking forward to the upcoming Pallbearer debut album, the new Worm Ouroboros, the debut Occultation album (members of Negative Plane), and the new albums by Evoken, Indesinence, Portal, and Vasaeleth. And the new Dawnbringer — Chris is almost done recording it and it’s going to slay!
Do you have plans for SXSW, Rites of Darkness or Maryland Death Fest this year?
Gonna pass on SXSW and MDF this year and focus on smaller events and shows that I will go out of my way to travel to. Rites Of Darkness was an awesome time — despite all the mishaps, it’s still one of my favorite festivals and it’s good to hear that the next Rites Of Darkness event will most-likely take place early 2013.
Ever thought of doing anything like the Power of the Riff shows that happened on the West Coast this year? Profound Lore showcases?
It’s just a matter of finding a place to do it. Definitely not in Toronto, Canada, that’s for sure. There have been bills where I have four or five bands that played. I’ve had a few SXSW showcases, which was an experience. I had six or seven bands play the Rites of Darkness festival last year. I don’t know about a Power of the Riff thing. What Greg is doing with the Power of the Riff thing is excellent. I just think I would have to work with other people because on my own I worry if it’s going to work out or if it’s going to tank. I always worry about stuff like that, when maybe I shouldn’t. Power of the Riff is brilliant. It already has a reputation. It’s become a staple.
So what does the future hold when it comes to genres/aesthetic/direction…CDs, vinyl, cassettes, etc.?
I think things have to be taken in a more discriminative fashion. Luckily I’m involved in a scene within the music industry where people have more of a collector mentality and actually enjoy buying physical product. I think they like to make a more personal connection with whatever release they are buying — as long as the output is of a quality nature and priced reasonably. Something that stands out of the endless glut of music being released today.
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
– Mike Scheidt, YOB
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 — 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!’.
– Stevie Floyd, Dark Castle
When Chris gets behind a band/record he literally is a part of your band. He lives and breathes and believes in that record as much as you do. Chris is the 6th member of The Atlas Moth.
– Stavros, The Atlas Moth
I like working with Chris Bruni because he’s always been upfront, fair and honest with Subrosa and the other bands on the label that we know. He has great music taste, and doesn’t cater to whatever’s “hot” at the moment; he picks timeless music; classic sounds. He also respects bands’ autonomy and their artistry and has no set formulaic “agenda” for the bands on his label.
– Rebecca Vernon, Subrosa
Chris knows what he likes and has absolutely no concern for how the rest of the world will interpret his decisions – if he believes in a project that is the bottom line. His absolute conviction and dedication to his artists trump all business necessities and breed an undying level of trust like no other.
– Shawn , Mitochondrion
Genji has been a fan of Profound Lore for quite some time, so I want to turn it over to him to share his favorite albums.
01. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (PFL-069, 2010)
What can be said about this album that hasn’t been said already? A stunning masterpiece by one of my absolute favorite bands ever. Marrow of the Spirit has much more of an organic feel than previous albums, and while some felt that Agalloch were messing with perfection, this album proved all doubters very wrong. In fact, it could be argued that this is Agalloch’s defining moment, and after submitting to the beauty and grandeur of Marrow, I feel it would be very hard to argue with that statement. From the last tranquil moments of opener “They Escaped the Weight of Darkness”, this album takes you on an unimaginable emotional journey. The surging beauty of songs like “Into the Painted Grey” and “Black Lake Nidstang” take you onto their broad shoulders, soaring to the highest peaks of tranquility then plunging you straight into the darkest depths of despair til you succumb to their every whim. By the time closer “To Drown” gracefully dies down, you are wrapped around the album’s gnarled little finger and like a junkie, you can’t help but go back for more because you want to feel that rush again and again. Such is the power of Marrow of the Spirit, and for me, it’s the album that has established Profound Lore as one of the premier labels around.
02. Dawnbringer – Nucleus (PFL-066, 2010)
In an age where so many bands are bringing back the “classic” sounds of early 80’s, very few have actually been able to achieve success without sacrificing originality by compromising their own style and sound for one that sounds exactly like (insert influence here). This is what separates Dawnbringer from the hordes of new “old school” metal bands. Comprised of members from such personal faves as Pharaoh and Nachtmystium, Dawnbringer unleashed a troo gem in Nucleus. What I love most about this band is the way they seemlessly blend their old metal influences with their own sounds. You can definitely hear some Nachtmystium (“You Know Me”, “Like an Earthquake”) and Pharaoh (“Swing Hard”, “So Much For Sleep”) in the songwriting, as well as lots of classic dueling guitar lines and NWOBHM style riffing and melodies, but make no mistake, none of it sounds like anyone but Dawnbringer. As long as bands like Dawnbringer are around, I can rest easy knowing the new generation of metal is in good hands.
03. Coffinworm – When All Became None (PFL-059, 2010)
This Indianapolis-based band deliver some of the filthiest, black/doom sludge around and when I first heard their Great Bringer of Night demo, my soul was instantly corrupted. Thus, when their first full length LP dropped, I knew it would crush everything in sight. Coffinworm’s terrifying blackened doom riffs lurch and sway back and forth while the tempo of their songs crawl along at a sickly sludgy pace. However, they graciously keep infection from setting in by occasionally injecting the listener with some blasts of speed before dropping an evil sledgehammer groove or two on you to get the ol’ head banging just enough before they drag you back down into the black depths. Add in some throat bursting screams from the swamp over the top of this cacophony of sludge and you’ve got yourself one damn fine record. Great band, terrifying stuff….
04. Altar of Plagues – White Tomb (PFL-045, 2009)
I first heard this Irish Black Metal trio in 2009 with the release of their first LP, White Tomb. Its combination of densely layered riffs with melodic, sprawling atmospheric passages really caught my attention as I had yet to encounter bands such as Alcest, who’s highly melodic, almost shoegaze approach to black metal had yet to really register with me. However, those qualities only rise to the surface occasionally amidst this bleak and barren black metal landscape. The four songs take you on a thoroughly dynamic journey, dragging you into their dark, chaotic world, plunging the listener into a sludgy blackened mire. As the album crawls along, its foul presence mesmerizing you, melodic passages briefly rear their beautiful heads before plunging back down into the dark abyss. The album surges and sways beautifully like this throughout, and with this new wave of alternate black metal bands currently on the rise, this record certainly puts Altar of Plagues right alongside the best. A must hear.
05. Cobalt – Eater of Birds (PFL-027, 2007)
From the distant opening drum call of “When Serpents Return” to the final majestic riffs and dying breath of the title track, Cobalt’s Eater of Birds is a ferocious slab of raw, energetic black metal fury. Hailing from Colorado, beneath the shadows of the mighty Rocky Mountains, one might be tempted to think this band would take their inspiration, like many others from similar areas, from the soaring beauty of the cold, bleak mountain ranges. But that would be wrong. Vocalist/guitarist Phil McSorley, who is an actual Sergeant in the US Army, draws his influences from his own life experiences, while drummer/guitarist Erik Wunder writes most of the music for his lifelong friend, recording only when McSorley is on leave. What all this leads to is a vicious and raw display of black metal at it’s most primal. I’ve heard the term “war metal” bandied about when referencing Cobalt, and that wouldn’t be a stretch, but what also separates this band from most others is their progressive nature. Wonderful atmospheric sections filled with epic, melodic passages ebb and flow seamlessly between their filthy raw black metal riffs. In my opinion, they are one of the best USBM bands around. Criminally underrated, brilliant album.
06. The Howling Wind – Into the Cryosphere (PFL-060, 2010)
Another USBM two piece with Ryan Lipynski (also of Unearthly Trance) on guitar/bass and vocals and Tim Call (Aldebaran) on drums, The Howling Wind are not as progressive as most of the others on this list. Rather, they play a chilling, sludgy version of black metal that is cavernous in sound, mesmerizing in it’s delivery, and heavy as hell. Like the raging snow blizzard whipping across the dark, lonely mountain peak depicted on the cover of the album, sludgy riff after riff hammers down upon the listener with a vengeance while the drums carve out a primal beat to match. Every song drifts along at a massive rumbling pace, each one generating enough angry force to break out of its isolated, icy tomb, only to be picked up and blown along the cold mountainside by the harsh winds until it slowly fades away to some icy oblivion. For those of you into the darker, more primitive (or tribal) black metal vibe, this album is for you.
07. Ludicra – The Tenant (PFL-056, 2010)
Unfortunately this fantastic record was to be my first and last experience with the excellent San Francisco black metal band, Ludicra. Comprised of former members of seminal SF black metal band Hammer’s of Misfortune, as well as drummer Aesop Dekker, who would eventually join heavyweight label mates Agalloch, this was a supremely talented band that just happened to peak at the beginning of their demise. Lucky for us The Tenant was their gift to the black metal universe. The album is a vision of grandeur, exquisite in it’s balance between beauty, melody, darkness and rage, and its complex yet simple execution keeps the listener enthralled throughout, with most of the credit belonging solely to lead vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman. Not only does she break down the wall of women vocalists in black metal, who typically only exist in a backing or secondary role, she also brings a different level of depth and emotion to this performance, one worthy of the highest praise next to any black metal colleague. With every song overflowing with furious driving riffs, glorious melodies, and grand atmosphere, this album will go down in the history of USBM as one of it’s finest contributions. It’s just a shame this band had to come to end of their gloriously dark journey well ahead of their time.
08. Cobalt – Gin (PFL-043, 2009)
The latest release from Cobalt, Gin, is quite different in approach from my other favorite, Eater of Birds, but it’s no less intense in its delivery or darkness. In fact, it’s much more grand in scope, progression, and maturity. For starters, the musicianship is tighter, the production bigger and better and lastly, the songwriting is much more dynamic. While it is a departure from the raw sound of Eater of Birds, it’s a natural progression for this highly talented duo. There’s quite a few more melodic passages and sprawling atmospheric breaks on Gin, and while songs like “Dry Body”, “A Clean Well Lighted Place” or “A Starved Horror” might sound more appropriate on a Tool album than on a black metal album, I never felt this was a terrible thing, unlike some who feel this is more like a bastardization of their brand of raw, black metal. In almost every song they still deliver sick black riffs, they’re just at a premium now as the band have simply outgrown pure raw emotion and have created something much more epic in stature. Cobalt should be applauded for this not only because they are an extremely talented band, but also because Gin is one hell of an album.
09. The Gates of Slumber – Conqueror (PFL-034, 2008)
What a debut from this Indianapolis doom metal trio! I can still remember listening to it for the first time and getting really excited about this band’s future. On this album they played doom metal with more of a raw, uptempo feel, more in the vein of NWOBHM heavyweights Witchfinder General or Witchfynde. Each song sways with a heavy groove that sometimes slows to a skull pounding crawl, while others pick up speed with evil metal riffs that just slay all in it’s path. Songs like “Trapped in the Web” or “Children of Satan” are like galloping metal battle cries, while others like “Ice Worm” or “To Kill and Be King” are more like St. Vitus on speed. The imagery is fierce, the metal pure, and the mixture of doom and metal just right. For me personally, this was their high point. I was not as impressed with the two albums that followed, which was quite a shame because I loved their sound on Conqueror. Whether it was the chemistry failing or a change in sound or approach, I don’t know, all I do know is that this was one beast of an album and I just wish they could find this magic one more time.
10. Winterfylleth – The Ghost of Our Heritage (PFL-039, 2008)
This English black metal band was one of the first of a wave of fantastic bands that started developing and releasing great music in the UK. What really caught my attention about The Ghost of Our Heritage was the great melodic nature of the songwriting, as well as their lyrical odes to their heritage, not unlike the great Norwegian black metal bands of the early 90’s. Their pagan/folk style really reminds me of bands like Drudkh and Burzum, with songs like “The March to Maldon” or “Guardian of the Herd” starting with simple eloquent riffs that build and swell into these grand melodic passages and epic chants that would inspire even the weakest of patriots to stand and salute their flag. Though the rest of the songs ring out with highly charged black metal riffs, grandiose imagery, and are very simple in their approach, The Ghost of Our Heritage is a highly inspiring listen. And with this being their first album, it’s also quite obvious how much talent this band already has and how much potential there is to look forward to. In fact, second album The Mercian Sphere is also a highly suggested listen, but for me, this album is where it all starts when you talk about the special sounds coming from the UK these days.
Profound Lore dominated 2011 with a deluge of doom, death and destruction — what follows is my personal rundown of these releases.
Mitochondrion – Parasignosis (PFL-070, January 18, 2011)
Parasignosis, from Canadian death metallers Mitochondrion, is a trip to the depths of hell with a plastic bag over your head. To call this album heavy would be a ridiculous understatement. 45 minutes of progressive blackened death metal so dense, so debilitating, that there is no chance to come up for air. Only 4 minutes in, when “Plague Evockation” gives way to “Lex Ego Extium” via chugging freight train riffage, you are past the point of no return — buckle up, put your head between your knees and brace yourself for the ride. As the atmosphere thickens into something hard and tangible, the album becomes more and more claustrophobic, but underneath the current of chaos lays a rhythmic river that will carry you through if you don’t fight the tide. The excellent production saves this album from becoming just a prison of noise, and the “Ambient Outro”, which clocks in at almost 10 minutes, was put there for safety reasons — without this comedown, reentry into the world of the living would not be safe. Hands down one of the best blackened death albums of the past few years.
SubRosa – No Help for the Mighty Ones (PFL-072, March, 1st ,2011)
In a time when television commercials and highway billboards are trying to convince us that those who hold court in Salt Lake City are just like you and I, the followers of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are being drown out by a predominantly female sludge-metal band that goes by the name SubRosa. Does this mean the end is near? If so, have no fear, because SubRosa will carve our story into the ruins of the world with their heavier than thou No Help For The Mighty One. Their lyrical content is heavily political and environmental, but the album really sets the stage with “Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes”, a song inspired by Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road — ‘in the darkness he holds his son, there is no God, there is no love‘ — as if to suggest that everything else on the album is just a history lesson, a human lesson of where we went wrong. Layers of vocal and electric violins ride the crushing bass line over the remains of those who are left behind – pulverizing bones along the road – ashes to ashes, dust to dust. SubRosa provide an alternative end to those in which they share a state, in this version even the historians cannot escape their fate — ‘I see that black horse coming now, I know you’re coming for me…‘ — and we are left wondering what comes next.
Grayceon – All We Destroy (PFL-073, March 1st, 2011)
It may be that Grayceon’s third album was slightly overshadowed by No Help for the Mighty Ones being released on the same day. In fact, I don’t think I really gave this album the attention it deserved until I started this piece on Profound Lore. So, if only one good thing comes from this profile, it will be the discovery of this completely unique band from San Francisco. Fronted by vocalist/cellist Jackie Perez Gratz, whom is just one of the many players in the phenomenal bay area scene, Grayceon have taken progressive doom metal to orchestral epicness in a way that cannot be categorized in this ‘need to be categorized even if you have to make up a label‘ world of subgenres. Gratz (who used to be in Amber Asylum, is in Giant Squid and lends her time to notable bands such as Agalloch, Neurosis, Two Gallants and others) dominates this album with both her electric cello and vocals that range from grotesque to absolute beauty. but Max Doyle’s guitar work and vocal harmonies are crucial, and Zack Farwell on drums completes a unique trio of amazing musicians doing something completely different — which is something I can rarely say these days.
Krallice – Diotima (PFL-076, April 26, 2011)
Probably the second most polarizing extreme band (behind Liturgy) working today, there seems to be no middle ground when it comes to Brookyln’s Krallice. For every damning review claiming Diotima is nothing more than a few mediocre riffs stretched across multiple time zones for the enjoyment of skinny jean wearing hipsters, there are those claiming Colin Marston and Mick Barr are just the guitar gods needed to kick-start a new day in extreme music. Personally, I am the 1% who doesn’t love OR hate this band. I can get into this album’s endless repetition (repetition, repetition, repetition) when I am in the right mood — usually involving headphones at an unhealthy volume — the blast beats and tremolo guitars providing a protective blanket of sound, creating a safe space from which to enjoy the infinite black hole swirling around my head. Preferring black metal shrieks to the sanded down (almost death metal) growls, I find myself preferring their earlier albums even though the songwriting is much stronger here. If I am being honest, I am more likely to turn to atmosphere inducing bands such as Agalloch or Wolves in the Throne Room when I am trying to create my own personal synthetic apocalypse, but I do appreciate how Krallice continue to push boundaries, seamlessly impervious to what their critics have to say. Trying to keep street cred when NPR is streaming your album and Ryan Adams declares you’re the best band working today can’t be easy, but when your average song is 10 minutes of avant garde black metal, I doubt Krallice will be popping up on any Top 40 stations any time soon.
Altar of Plagues – Mammal (PFL-075, May 3rd, 2011)
Ireland’s Altar of Plagues present a 4 track meditation on death, and it’s not easy to swallow. With an average runtime of 12 minutes, each track is a true commitment. But that’s not to say you won’t be rewarded for your dedication to the lesson. There are moments of bone chilling black metal that give way to spacious shoegaze passages that meander through the halls of [insert Irish castle of choice here] only to meet you around the next corner and knock your head back up with ghostly growls and blast beats that echo through the centuries. This album exists in a cold (long dead) place, it takes patience, and while it may not live up to their debut, it is still a worthy release.
Dark Castle – Surrender to All Life Beyond Form (PFL-077, May 17th, 2011)
Surrender To All Life Beyond Form is one of the most interesting, confusing, mindfucking listens in recent history. The confusion of waking up from a nightmare, only to realize you’re still dreaming, is a recurring feeling with this sophomore release from St. Augustine, Florida‘s female-led doom(?) duo, Dark Castle. The album opens with Stevie Floyd in absolute anguish, her vocals wrapped in thorn-spiked vines as she surrenders to ‘this feeling I’ve found‘, while Rob Shaffer does his best to drown the screams with thunderous percussion. It isn’t until after a short instrumental interlude that everything tumbles down the rabbithole — synth, spoken word, ambient noise, a Mike Scheidt vocal exercise with Tibetan Singing Bowls — all in less than 30 minutes and somehow keeping with the aesthetic of the concept as a whole. The album appropriately come to a close with “Learning to Unlearn” – appropriate because this album taught me to unlearn everything I thought I knew about the boundaries of doom, and even metal itself.
Loss – Despond (PFL-071, May 31st, 2011)
The band is Loss. The album is Despond. The artwork consists of black-and-white, hand-drawn illustrations portraying a house of suicidal horrors. Mike Meacham’s spoken word “Weathering the Blight” sets the mood for what follows — ‘you suffered down below, and you saw no light, made knots of your fingers, while weathering the blight‘– this is slow motion funeral doom that one review described as ‘so defeating and replete, it even manages the extra mile of plucking the “fun” from “funeral” and forcing it to hang itself‘. That particular text has stuck with me since the day I read it, but the irony is that this album is fun. Just a quick browse through the track titles might make that seem impossible — “The Irreparable Act”, “Shallow Pulse”, “Open Vein to a Closed Curtain”, and my personal favorite, “Cut Up, Depressed And Alone” — but this band from the most unlikely of places (Tennessee) has achieved something no other in this sub- sub- genre has been able to, they have held my complete and undivided attention for well over an hour, over and over again. The aforementioned intro leads into a half hour of monstrous, guttural death growls layered over down-tuned doom riffs repeated at a snails pace, creating a haunting hypnotic state in the listener, instead of inducing a depressive fatigue, a warm sense of peace prevails, not unlike the feeling (described by suicidal failures) of bleeding out in the bathtub. The piano-driven instrumental title track acts as a mid-point in this journey into the depths of the lost and hopeless, but don’t expect salvation on the other side — there is no shining light at the end of this tunnel. It is not until “Silent and Completely Overcome” that we encounter intelligible vocals again, this time from Pallbearer’s Brett Campbell — ‘I do not remember a depression such as this…‘ — yes, it is all so depressing, the protagonist only escaping his private living hell by bleeding himself numb, but there is something so powerful in this package that you can’t help but enjoy the experience. This is a release you have to own in physical form, because there is no single element that stands alone — the musicianship, the vocals, the lyrics, the artwork — it all comes together to form my #1 Profound Lore release since Marrow of the Spirit.
Disma – Toward The Megalith (PFL-080, Jul 19, 2011)
Not being a connoisseur of death metal myself, all I can really say about the debut album from New Jersey’s super-death-group Disma is that they simulate the feeling of being buried alive. When I lived in San Francisco, my biggest fear when it came to the imminent ‘big one’, was being pinned underneath the rubble of my apartment complex while the Earth seesawed beneath my broken body. The down-tuned death metal contained on Towards The Megalith is an ode to the old-school death metal that existed before digital multiplication, and it is as terrifying as any earthquake aftermath my imagination can conjure. There are plenty of reviewers out there with the proper resume to determine where this band and album fit into the death metal genome, but for now we’ll have to make do with the most commonly used adjectives…extreme, pure, gory, slow, heavy, crackling, distorted, murky, muddy, filthy, monstrous, ugly, massive, encompassing, panoramic, intense, disturbing, scary, serious, ominous, suffocating, epic, nasty, grueling, terrifying, corrosive, hellish, noxious, abrasive, dire, slimy, repellent, caustic, precise, crushing, devastating, monolithic, stunning…yeah, enough said.
Avichi – Devil’s Fractal (PFL-081, July 19th, 2011)
A true offering to the lord of the underworld, this orthodox black metal document is the work of usbm staple, Andrew Markuszewski (aka Aamonael). Usually a one-man sermon, Charlie Fell was brought in to provide percussion on Devil’s Fractal. This album acts as a valid argument for modern usbm, and proves once again why Profound Lore is one of the most diverse outlets of extreme music today. Everything on this album is tight; every element fits perfect in the mix. Clean production, profoundly evil (decipherable) lyrics and an open invitation to the ceremony. Come bask in the glow of Satan’s sun, just be careful not to burn.
YOB – Atma (PFL-083, Aug 16, 2011)
Atma has many definitions among various religions and spiritual beliefs, but usually it boils down to an awareness of the self — a completely aware version of the self. This reference, along with lyrics exploring nature, mantras, life, death and everything in between, brings me back to the two weeks I spent in Tibet eight years ago. The meditative “Before We Dreamed of Two” provides the perfect soundtrack to a sky burial, while “Adrift in the Ocean” was written for those weeks we spent adrift on the ocean of dust that leads from Lhasa to the Nepal border. Most metaphors for doom metal invoke a heavy darkness, so it’s odd that the mighty YOB have transported me to closer to the sun (to the heights of the majestic Himalayas) with their second release since coming out of hibernation. Don’t get me wrong, Atma is heavy as hell. This is psychedelic, stoner metal that would split a morning monk procession in two, sending yaks scattering across the countryside. But this Oregon trio does not belong in a dark cave lighting butter candle offering to the gods; I picture Mike Scheidt standing atop Mt. Shishabangma, the morning clouds encompassing the band as the all impending DOOM reigns over the peaks, echoing between the valleys and through the incense haze into the towns and villages…all the way to Kathmandu.
The Atlas Moth – An Ache for the Distance (PFL-084, Sep 20, 2011)
‘It’s just begun to spiral out of hand as we lose our ground‘ Stavros Giannopoulos opens “Coffin Varnish” in his best black metal impersonation, but The Atlas Moth manage to keep their balance throughout their sophomore release. On An Ache for the Distance, the 5-piece band from Chicago have taken psychedelic sludge to the edge of the cliff and poured it into an ocean of liquid LSD. What comes bubbling to the surface is a multi-layered mindfuck of an album that eschews any and all attempts to be labeled. This is not your father’s tie-dyed ‘peace, love and understanding’ psychedelic trip. The Atlas Moth’s trip is a bad one, and they want you to ride it out with them. A three-pronged guitar attack, bluesy harmonies, nightmarish screams, misleading seductive whispers, curtains of claustrophobic atmosphere, pummeling percussion — all merged together in a cohesive album that is as original as it is frightening as hell. I read a review that mentioned The Atlas Moth were better at being Mastodon than Mastodon were in 2011, and while I think that is unfair (to both bands), I believe The Atlas Moth have the potential to reach a massive audience just like their progressive brethren in Georgia.
Wolvhammer – Obsidian Plains (PFL-085, October 25th, 2011)
Midwestern metallers Wolvhammer present black metal built of brick and mortar. If you are looking for a soundtrack to your transcendental journey through the Cascadian wilderness, you’ve come to the wrong place. Atmosphere has been replaced with asphalt; the celestial with the concrete. All it takes is one wrong turn in Chicago or the Twin Cities to undercover the inspiration for this filthy document of urban decay. Black-and-white misanthropy isn’t something that need be imported from the cold, white North — just a few hours in the modern labyrinth of the American city should be enough for any self respecting human being to shed the shackles of society and lash out in the way Wolvhammer do on The Obsidian Plains. Another example of the exciting things coming from the usbm scene.
Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore (PFL-086, November 8th, 2011)
Any attempt to separate this release from the harsh allegations of sexual assault leveled at its creator are proven useless by the packaging alone. Jef Whitehead (aka Wrest aka Leviathan) could have used the mug shot from his January arrest in lieu of album artwork and it would have been more subtle than the black-and-white image of the hand alleged to have committed unspeakable acts of aggression. Then again, this is also the same hand responsible for many murals of the flesh, not to mention a crucial instrument in the creation of the usbm scene. But any doubts around the point Whitehead is trying to make with his resurrected Leviathan project are put to rest with a quick browse of track titles — “True Whorror”, “Harlot Rises”, “Every Orifice Yawning Her Price” — and of course the title of the album, True Traitor, True Whore, makes his intentions blindingly clear. Controversy was bound to surround this album. The message-boards were full of outrage and calls for the mass burning of albums and CDs before the charges were even made clear. Wrest, having retired the Leviathan name after 2008’s Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, was being dubbed the American Varg Vikernes. Sex sells, and graphic sexual abuse surrounding a prominent member of the black metal scene, one who ironically wrote a song called “The History of Rape”, sells even better. So, how is one to judge the actual music contained within this record? I actually don’t think one does. The only judge as to the success of True Traitor, True Whore is Whitehead himself. Sure, he wants the album to sell, as I’m sure Profound Lore would like to recoup the costs associated with releasing it, but in the end this is nothing more than an exorcism. Innocent or guilty, facing accusations of this sort come with consequences. Life will never be the same for the man behind this music. There is a stigma that will never be erased. The question is, was the creation of this album enough of an outlet for the man to be at peace with his place in this world? The musician has created a world of ‘pain, isolation, hatred and despair‘ for many years, but can the man now live in a reality where the world at large will regard him as a monster? I, for one, believe the man is innocent until proven guilty. The problem is that the ignorant masses are usually not so open-minded. And the ignorant masses are those who have to be dealt with on a daily basis. Some critics have said the material here presents a fractured, meandering, directionless Wrest — a subdued, less ferocious facsimile of the earlier Leviathan. But that brings me back to my point. This is the document of a man literally disappearing — his character, his very being, destroyed by mere words of an enemy (a traitor). It isn’t going to be all rage and revenge. There are moments of fury, there are moments of transformation into something inhuman (when your humanity is taken, what is left?), there are moments of endless sadness, but more often than not there is just confusion as the protagonist grasps at the swirling abyss, trying to hold on to something real. As a personal account of a single man dealing with extraordinary circumstances, I believe True Traitor, True Whore is a staggering work of genius.
Melechesh – The Ziggurat Scrolls EP: PFL-001-04
Leviathan – Tentacles of Whorror : PFL-002-04 *
Xasthur/Leviathan – Leviathan/Xasthur (Split): PFL-003-04
Diabolical Masquerade – Ravendusk in My Heart: PFL-004-04 *
Agalloch – The Mantle: PFL-005-05 *
Dead of Winter – At the Helm of the Abyss: PFL-006-05
Portal – Seepia: PFL-007-05 ****
Wold – L.O.T.M.P.: PFL-009-05
Leviathan – A Silhouette in Splinters: PFL-010-05
Orphaned Land – Ararat EP: PFL-EP-01
Green Carnation – The Burden Is Mine… Alone EP: PFL-EP-02
Orphaned Land – Mabool: PFL-011 *
Agalloch – Pale Folklore: PFL-012 *
Ulver – Blood Inside: PFL-013 *
Thralldom – A Shaman Steering the Vessel of Vastness: PFL-014
Arctic Circle – Forcing the Astral: PFL-015
Nadja – Bodycage: PFL-016 **
Nachtmystium – Instinct: Decay: PFL-017 *
Isis – Live.03: PFL-018 *
Asunder – Works Will Come Undone: PFL-019
Profundi – The Omega Rising: PFL-020
Wold – Screech Owl: PFL-021
Amber Asylum – Still Point: PFL-022
The Angelic Process – Weighing Souls With Sand: PFL-023
Atavist – II: Ruined: PFL-025
Pulsefear – Perichoresis: PFL-024
Caïna – Mourner: PFL-026
Cobalt – Eater of Birds: PFL-027
Alcest – Souvenirs d’un autre monde: PFL-028 ***
The Howling Wind – Pestilence & Peril: PFL-029
Portal – Outre’: PFL-030
Nadja – Bliss Torn From Emptiness: PFL-031
Wrath of the Weak – Alogon: PFL-032
Half Makeshift – Omen: PFL-033
The Gates of Slumber – Conqueror: PFL-034
Wold – Stratification: PFL-035
Cobalt – Landfill Breastmilk Beast EP: PFL-EP-03
Krallice – Krallice: PFL-036
Atavist/Nadja – II: Points at Infinity: PFL-037
Caïna – Temporary Antennae: PFL-038
Winterfylleth – The Ghost of Heritage: PFL-039
Hammers of Misfortune – Fields/Church of Broken Glass: PFL-040/040.5
The Devil’s Blood – Come, Reap EP: PFL-041
Saros – Acrid Plains: PFL-042
Cobalt – Gin: PFL-043
Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs: PFL-044 ***
Altar of Plagues – White Tomb: PFL-045
Amber Asylum – Bitter River: PFL-046
YOB – The Great Cessation: PFL-047
Bloody Panda – Summon: PFL-048
Crucifist – Demon-Haunted World: PFL-049
Portal – Swarth: PFL-050
Worm Ouroboros – Worm Ouroboros: PFL-051
Krallice – Dimensional Bleedthrough: PFL-052
Impetuous Ritual – Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence: PFL-053
Vasaeleth – Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin: PFL-054
Wold – Working Together for Our Privacy: PFL-055
Ludicra – The Tenant: PFL-056
Hooded Menace – Never Cross the Dead: PFL-057
Apostle of Solitude – Last Sunrise: PFL-058 ***
Coffinworm – When All Became None: PFL-059
The Howling Wind – Into the Cryosphere: PFL-060
Blood Revolt – Indoctrine: PFL-061
Castevet – Mounds of Ash: PFL-062
Yakuza – Of Seismic Consequence: PFL-063
Man’s Gin – Smiling Dogs: PFL-064
StarGazer – A Great Work of Ages: PFL-065
Dawnbringer – Nucleus: PFL-066
Slough Feg – The Animal Spirits: PFL-067
Salome – Terminal: PFL-068
Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit: PFL-069
Mitochondrion – Parasignosis: PFL-070
SubRosa – No Help for the Mighty Ones: PFL-072
Grayceon – All We Destroy: PFL-073
KEN mode – Venerable: PFL-074
Altar of Plagues – Mammal: PFL-075
Krallice – Diotima: PFL-076
Dark Castle – Surrender to All Life Beyond Form: PFL-077
Loss – Despond: PFL-071
A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us Our Silver Memories Fade: PFL-078 ******
Morne – Asylum: PFL-079
Disma – Towards the Megalith: PFL-080
Krallice – Decibel Flexi Series *****
Avichi – The Devil’s Fractal: PFL-081
Caïna – Hands That Pluck: PFL-082
YOB – Atma: PFL-083
The Atlas Moth – An Ache for the Distance: PFL-084
Wolvhammer – The Obsidian Plains: PFL-085
Leviathan – True Traitor, True Whore: PFL-086
Antediluvian – Through the Cervix of Hawaah: PFL-087
Wold – Freermasonry: PFL-088
* limited vinyl release
** previously released
*** North American release
**** remastered edition
***** limited flexi single
****** North American/UK release