Interview with Jon Gullett of BLACK SHROUD
Black Shroud from northwest Ohio is described as “blue collar American rogue black metal.” What exactly does this title mean? Is it intended to name a new subgenre of black metal, or specifically to represent the band?
It’s a representation of us, our sound and where we come from musically. We’re four dudes from northwest Ohio surrounded by cornfields who set out to make our own brand of black metal. We didn’t want to sound like another second wave cookie cutter band or a clone band from across the pond. We wanted to do something fresh. We don’t believe in gimmicks that you typically see in the genre such as “corpse paint,” leather jackets with spikes, or all the Hail Satan Occult drivel. We feel that stuff is overplayed and laughable. That’s what we mean by blue collar; it’s straight forward and who we are. Anything else would be farce.
Black Shroud formed fairly recently. Who founded the band and where did the inspiration come from? Does everyone in the band have similar tastes or do they differ in one way or the other?
Black Shroud was created from the ashes of a failed death metal project. After lineup changes, musical differences and our guitarist putting his guitar down for three years we decided to give it up. Around the end of 2017 our guitarist and drummer hooked up and went to a show in Cleveland. They realized how much they missed playing and decided to start jamming again. A few phones calls were made, some Busch Lite was consumed and the rest was history. Black Shroud was born.
We all are really inspired by black metal; we feel it’s the pinnacle of metal. We also feel in this genre you have complete freedom. We all have very different backgrounds when it comes to how we got involved playing music but we all love the black metal style. Bands like Dissection, Dawn and Immortal just to name a few were really eye openers for us. They inspired us to play this style of metal. Of course after listening to Death Culture you can see how we wanted to separate ourselves from acts like that, but that’s only because we didn't want to be a carbon copy of the forefathers and truly wanted to do something rogue and American. Blue Collar if you will.
How gimmicky does the band feel black metal has gotten in the U.S. and other countries? Does this have to do with its mainstream acceptance in the 2000s or are too many underground black metal bands becoming too image conscious? How much do you expect Black Shroud will change that, if in your view it can be changed?
We feel black metal has lost its individualism. The forefathers of the scene started the genre to be an opposing force against death metal. What made the genre special and different has now started to tarnish it. The elitist black metal fans or 'Trv Kvlt' crowd if you will, will dismiss bands if they don't have a low fi recording or have a certain look or the lyrical content does not have some sort of satanic element. People are more involved with an image than actually writing good songs unfortunately. All show and no go. We wanted to create our own path with our release Death Culture. We don't expect to change anything. We just wanted to write solid songs and leave no stone unturned in our attempt.
Though the black metal bands in Norway and Sweden meant for the genre to oppose death metal, bands from the U.S. and elsewhere began crossing the two genres over. Did this dilute the vision shared by the early Scandinavian bands? Was the ‘Kvlt’ idea meant to oppose the black/death crossover? How do you tell the bands who are sincere from those who are just assuming a ‘Kvlt’ image?
I wouldn't really say it diluted the genre, it gave way to another. Personally we believe that if you’re not from Scandinavia you are not 'trv', and have no business portraying something you are not. Trv black metal from Detroit ya know? It just doesn't add up if you get my drift. We believe the boys from across the pond are genuine and have a right to portray that image because that’s who they are with their imagery and lyrical content. I've never heard of any Americans burning churches in the name of black metal or pagan beliefs. Hell man, even American deathcore acts don corpse paint now. At the end of the day bands can do what they want, to each their own I guess. We just don't practice anything like that in our camp. It’s just not us, if were in the woods weren't walking around with skulls in our hands and posing. We have bows and are trying to harvest whitetail deer.
What is the band’s definition of black metal, and how does it reflect the environment you live in, if at all? Is there an underground scene in your part of Ohio, and if there is how would you rate it in comparison to other locations in the US?
Our definition of black metal can be heard through Death Culture. Aside from having your staples such as tremolo guitar, blast beats and heavy vocals these songs have some substance and take you somewhere. We definitely went against the grain on this release. We kept the guitar and bass tones low and not scooped like traditional recordings. Our vocalist uses more of a lower register in his sound rather than the high pitched vocals people are used to, and the drums are perfectly placed giving each song the rhythmic groove they needed. Our sound is definitely derived from where we come from and reflects who we are. It doesn't sound like it came from any Scandinavian country.
Ohio's black metal is scene is pretty solid. We have a lot of bands from various parts of the state. Bands such as Well Of Night, Burial Oath, Plaguewielder and Succorbenoth just to name a few. They all jam and have certain elements that make them who they are. Some of the bands have a black n roll sound, while others are more melodic. We all have a blackened element to us, and that is pretty exciting.
Which bands are you most often in contact with? Do you often share bills locally, spread word for each other and so on? How are the usual turnouts at a local show?
We are a new band in the scene. We have spent the last year working on Death Culture so we really haven't had the opportunity to get out and gig. We've been in contact with the guys from Burial Oath from Cleveland and have enjoyed going to their shows there. They are a great band and really cool people. We've talked with members of Well Of Night from Dayton, Ohio; they’re another awesome band. We are set to play a show March 9 in Kent, Ohio with Plaguewielder a blackened sludge band from southern Ohio. Blasphemous Blessing and Mammon will also be on the bill.
Having worked on Death Culture for that long, do you feel the time is right to perform in support of it? Do you think your shows will go over well at this point?
We are very excited to show this album off live. That’s what it’s all about. We're sure some people will dismiss us right off the bat but people tend to hate things they don't understand. Like I said before, we really went against the grain on how black metal bands are usually perceived musically and in imagery. It could work out in our favor or be a bust. For the most part I think people will enjoy us. Time will tell.
Are there any local fanzines, in print or on the web, that cover the scene in Ohio? How many zines from other states or other countries are you in contact with that help support Black Shroud?
Unfortunately we don’t have any fanzines in our area that I am aware of. Shameless self-promotion on social media is what we have. It's nice that we have that tool nowadays. Black Shroud has been contacted by many different people from different countries in just a short period of time since we have released Death Culture. Brazil, Portugal and Germany just to name a few. Stateside we have had people from Texas, California and New York message us about our album and send support. It's pretty awesome knowing our music has left a basement in Northwest Ohio and now can be heard all over. We get emails and messages daily and we greatly appreciate the kind words and support.
How much has social media helped get exposure for Black Shroud and other Ohio bands? What sites does the band currently use?
Our guitarist runs a Facebook page called Buckeye Black Metal. The page is dedicated to the Ohio scene and a place where people can promote shows or any upcoming news related to Ohio black metal bands. The crowds at local shows are actually pretty good when considering the style of metal we play. Social media is definitely a useful tool to get info out. Pages like Facebook and Bandcamp are essential for exposure.
Where on Facebook can people find Buckeye Black Metal? How much does this page help bands, zine editors, distros and fans connect with each other?
People can find Buckeye Black Metal on Facebook just by doing a simple search. I'm not really sure how much it helps bands, it is nice to see what everyone is up to on one page. If people want to see what Ohio black metal has to offer, I encourage them to check the page out.
How would you describe the way your music reflects your environment? What mental images are the low tones of your guitars and bass meant to evoke. Do the lower pitched vocals give your material as much weight as your instruments do?
We come from a place that is mostly industrial and agriculture based. The people from around our rural area are straightforward, generally get to the point and don't beat around the bush. Our music is the same. You won't hear long acoustic intros or any pretty symphonic segments in our music. Heavy caveman straightforward riffs with the occasional doom downer parts, which we consider to be our blue collar sound.
Describe the rhythmic groove written into your material. How does it generally enhance your songs? Does the percussion establish a backbone for this groove, or is the groove created collectively?
The lower tones in our music were placed to separate us from traditional acts or what one might have preconceived while listening to black metal. We really wanted to make our own path sonically and with our song structure. The vocals definitely add weight to our sound. We wanted to write riffs that accompanied our vocalist's style so collectively we would have one massive low heavy wall coming at the listener. The drums are definitely our backbone and heartbeat to the songs. Our drummer didn't just do an all-out drag race like you will hear in a lot of acts. He was able to create space and tension in our sound with his beats. It gives a sarcastic element honestly.
If the band doesn’t have occult or satanic topics in their lyrics, what do you choose to write about? How are your lyrics unique within the black metal genre?
Death Culture's lyrics are about the different ways that cultures around the world dispose of their dead. We did some research on how people honor their fallen and some of it is pretty brutal. We didn't want to take the satanic route because we are not satanists. That alone make us different and unique as far as lyrics go in the genre.
How many different cultures did the band study while doing research for the lyrics? Were all the lyrics written first, or were they written to fit the song structure? Does the album have subject matter you don’t read about from other bands?
Death Culture is a five track album. Each song is a description of a culture and their various burial methods and rituals. We researched five different cultures to come up with the tracks. The lyrics were written after the music was. It was the first time we had wrote like this. The band just focused on creating our sound and what we wanted musically. It was pretty awesome after hearing what our vocalist did to give our songs a voice. Especially after rehearsing them for weeks without any vocals. It made us really tight as a band.
The opening track ‘Tower of Silence’ pertains to the Dakhmas (towers) in Iran and how they are used to hold bodies above the ground to eaten by vultures. The bones are then left to be bleached by the sun. ‘Mellified Man’ is about a ritual where the person who is about to die changes their diet to all honey, that’s all they consume. Which will preserve the body when they die. They are then buried in honey and are later exhumed to be used as a confection to heal certain illnesses. ‘Inhumation’ describes modern day techniques used in western civilization. Bands have more than likely talked about burial rituals in the past but, maybe not to this extent. The lyrics are more descriptive of the rituals.
Who in the band wrote the lyrics of Death Culture? Did the lyricist get most of his information from books or the internet or both? What books or web outlets offered the most information?
Our vocalist and guitarist had a hand in writing the lyrics for Death Culture. The internet was probably the biggest outlet of information about the topics. Watching documentaries on Youtube you tend to slip down the rabbit hole into more information. Wikipedia was also a big help.
Who designed the cover artwork of Death Culture? How does his work reflect your release as a whole?
The album’s cover art was done by Somluck Sapeanthong from Somluck Art, who resides in Bangkok, Thailand. It's a depiction of a Himalayan Sky Burial. It's a practice of excarnation or stripping the body of its flesh by animals. They believe the body is just an empty vessel after death and leaving it to the scavengers is a generous way of decomposition. The ground is also too rocky to dig graves in that region.
How did you come into contact with Somluck Sapeanthong, and what interested him in doing your cover art? Was his work based on a specific idea you had, or was it from his own imagination? Where on the net can his other work be viewed?
We actually got in contact with Somluck through Daniel Collabolletta (Succorbenoth and other various projects) who put us in contact with Todwanderer Design from Poland who eventually hooked us up with Somluck. We told Somluck about Sky Burial and he already knew about them. We pretty much gave him the reins and he came up with the cover and our logo actually. The way we look at it, we play music, he's an artist. We have no business really telling a guy what we want. Apparently he just listened to our music and was able to give our album a face with little input from us. We think he did one hell of a job. Somluck can be found on Facebook under Somluck Art.
The band has started writing the follow up release, and plan to release it around the end of the year. How many songs have been completed so far? Are they improvements from the material on Death Culture?
We have music completed for four songs for our follow up. We really want to hone our sound on the next offering. We want to focus on that blue collar sound. More dynamics and tension and more of that lower tone that has become part of us. Honestly these songs have wrote themselves so far, once we got the mindset of how we achieved Death Culture the hard part was out of the way. We definitely don't want to make a copy of the first release and so far that isn't happening. We achieved a sound on Death Culture or identity as we like to think of it. Now it’s time just to tell another story.