The past five years have been a fertile period for metal with a reverence for a classic sound. We’ve heard the ghoulish proto-metal of Ghost, the gothic heavy metal of In Solitude, the rock ‘n’ roll riffs of Christian Mistress and the theatrical tunefulness of Tribulation. And briefly, there was the occult-rock style of Germany’s The Oath, who broke up after releasing just one album. That band’s frontwoman, Johanna Sadonis, ended up launching Lucifer shortly thereafter with Gaz Jennings, guitarist of Cathedral, and the result is Lucifer I, released in June via Rise Above. It’s a stunning blend of New Wave of Heavy Metal style dynamics, with the subtle spookiness of ’70s occult rock. And what takes it a step further is Sadonis herself, whose voice is as impressive an instrument as you’ll hear in metal.
More importantly, Lucifer actually writes songs that acknowledge melody and hooks, which a lot of metal purposefully avoids. And there’s certainly a place in metal for being “extreme”—half of what you’ll read on this page fits that description, if not more than that. For Lucifer, however, it’s as much about the song as the sound, and the proof is in their stunning, albeit stylishly sinister compositions.
We’re only just now at the beginning of the story, but with Lucifer I being the title of the band’s debut album, there’s an indication that there’s more to the saga ahead, which is promising, indeed. And it’s interesting that a band who appears to represent an exciting future for metal has roots in its past. As Lucifer heads out on tour this month for their first U.S. tour (with High on Fire and Pallbearer), Sadonis took the time to answer some questions via email.
Everyone who plays in the band has a history of playing different styles of metal; how did you arrive upon the style you play as a group?
Johanna Sadonis: When I founded Lucifer I the goal was to pay tribute to the great bands of the ’70s. All these different genres of metal the individual members of Lucifer have been involved in trace back to this. Lucifer returns to the core, soaks it up and spits it out in its own contemporary way.
Lucifer I is a highly melodic—even sort of catchy—album. How important is that to you in terms of songwriting?
JS: Very important. Gaz writes very catchy riffs and when I write my vocal melodies over these, I also treat my voice like an instrument and start working on the melodies before writing or completing the lyrics to fit into these vocal patterns. I personally prefer catchy songs and always try to incorporate this into Lucifer for my part. If this is visible, I am happy! I think the others see this the same way. Gaz’s favourite bands are Kiss and Black Sabbath, for example. I’d say these are very catchy influences.
How collaborative is the songwriting process for the band?
JS: Lucifer I was written between Gaz Jennings an me. Him and I demoed the material and then we started playing them together as a whole band. This is where our drummer Andy (Prestidge) and (bass player) Dino (Gollnick) both add their spice to the songs.
A lot of bands in heavy music make a name for themselves based on their live show—or entire absence of it. How does it factor for Lucifer?
JS: For us recording and playing live is equally important, though both are two different sectors. A few people told me that we sound live much heavier than on the recordings. However we only played a few shows so far with Lucifer as the band is fairly new together but I am looking forward to our first longer tour in North America with High On Fire & Pallbearer starting this week, so that Lucifer can start to properly roll.
To some degree, there are musical/thematic connections between Lucifer and some of the “occult rock” bands of the late 60s and early ‘70s (Coven, etc.). Was that much of an influence on the band?
JS: Absolutely. Our main influence and favourite band is Black Sabbath, followed by bands like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Lucifer’s Friend, Aphrodite’s Child etc. Coven as well are an important band of this genre, no doubt!
The name Lucifer has a long history in metal, occult rock and experimental realms—what’s the significance to you?
JS: Lucifer is the beautiful outcast angel that perfectly represents the spirit of the band. It is also a very catchy name. I thought it through very carefully naming the band and had to go for it!
The title Lucifer I seems to indicate that it’s the first in an ongoing series. Will future recordings be sort of like a continuation of the story? Or is it more of a nod to bands like Queen or Led Zeppelin, who had similarly titled albums?
JS: It is both. I wanted to mark the beginning of a journey, especially after the death of my shortly lived last band The Oath, which only released one album last year. Lucifer I is also taking a bow towards the great bands of rock.
The best metal tracks of July 2015
Cruciamentum – “Piety Carved from Flesh”
Profound Lore has been inviting a lot of British acts to join its North American metal party, and along with epic doom act Indesinence, the UK’s Cruciamentum are releasing a new album this year on the consistently great Canadian label. “Piety Carved from Flesh” is death metal with more than a little groove in its wretched, guttural sound, and a little bit of the avant garde tracing the edges. Truthfully, the song had won me over with its surprisingly catchy opening riff, but by the time it takes off into the sqeualing series of solos more than three minutes in, the song transcends that into a whole other realm of psychedelic intensity. With Cruciamentum at the helm, the future of death metal sounds bright.[from Charnel Passages, out Sept. 4; Profound Lore]
Christian Mistress – “Open Road”
Olympia’s Christian Mistress owe as much to Patti Smith’s artful proto-punk as they do to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and a lot of that has to do with vocalist Christine Davis, who has a compelling rasp that imbues their songs not just with power, but with character. There’s a personality to Christian Mistress’ music that goes beyond their influences, and for that reason, their new album To Your Death is one of my most anticipated metal releases of the fall. “Open Road” is just the kind of awesome, classic metal track that hits all the right notes, with a propulsive and riff-driven melody that rides the lane between Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. It’s badass heavy metal with an emphasis on rock ‘n’ roll.[from To Your Death, out Sept. 18; Relapse]
Temple of Baal – “Divine Scythe”
What a splendid month for death metal this is turning out to be! French black metal outfit Temple of Baal has been playing menacing, furious metal since 1998, and though they’re not the most prolific band in the world, they continue to find new ways to combine elements of both black and death metal, and intertwine them together in a caustic mesh of noise and melody. “Divine Scythe” is everything that a great extreme metal song should be: Fast, dynamic, loud, technically impressive and evil in a sophisticated way. There’s elements of both Gorguts and Deathspell Omega here, plus some good old-fashioned heavy metal showmanship, which is never a bad thing. Vive le mort.[from Mysterium, out Oct. 2; Agonia]
Krallice – “Wastes of Ocean”
Well, here’s a splendid surprise! Krallice’s new album Ygg Huur showed up on Bandcamp just before deadline, and ended up being good enough to sneak into the monthly track picks. It’s unusually short for a Krallice album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Years Past Matter, impressive as it was, got to be a little too dense at times. But based on “Wastes of Ocean,” the New York black metal outfit is still not short on ideas, even if their songs average closer to six minutes apiece instead of ten. This track is an absolute mind-blower, balancing the mathematically complex art-death of Gorguts (of whom Krallice’s Colin Marston is a member) with something closer to hardcore or noise rock. It’s intense and uncompromising, but actually accessible in its own fucked-up way. No, you might not catch all of its twists, turns and detours on the first listen, but the ride is so thrilling that getting back in line to experience it again is the only logical course of action.[from Ygg Huur, out now; self-released]
Windhand – “Two Urns”
It’s kind of hilarious that the “radio edit” of Windhand’s “Two Urns” is still six and a half minutes long. On any radio station that would likely play a track by Windhand, length isn’t going to be an issue. And yet, if they were going for commercial radio, they’d have to shave off at least another three minutes. All of which is to say I’ll take as much of Windhand as they’re going to want to give me. “Two Urns” isn’t far removed from the beefy, catchy doom metal of the band’s 2013 album Soma, but with an even catchier melody, and just the slightest hint that, sure, there might be a brave radio program director out there willing to let this song make its way onto the after-midnight playlist. Whether in its six- or eight-minute version, “Two Urns” churns and chugs with noxious guitar distortion heavy enough to rival any doom metal miscreants worth their salt. But melody has always been the band’s trump card; singer Dorthia Cottrell released a solo acoustic album earlier this year, and it proved to be one of the year’s best surprises. She’s just as impressive on a quiet dirge as she is in a colossal metal track, but it’s comforting to hear her get back to epic thunder.[from Grief’s Infernal Flower, out Sept. 18; Relapse]
Piece by piece
Recommended July metal albums:
Hope Drone‘s Cloak of Ash: Black metal albums with songs that each run more than 10 minutes long, and passages of quiet and meditative post-rock erupting into storms of blast beats, are pretty common. Lots of bands do it, and lots of bands do it well, but after a while, a lot of them tend to blur together. I know there are plenty of promos taking up space on my hard drive that I probably don’t need. But Australia’s Hope Drone prove an impressive exception, their 70-plus minute new album Cloak of Ash making a statement that goes well beyond Weakling worship, thanks to their outstanding songwriting and powerful arrangements. (Relapse)
Indesinence‘s III: So, doom metal can be pretty forbidding, seeing as how it’s mostly slow-moving, extra-long music that’s not terribly social or catchy: “Hey man, wanna turn up some doom?” “Nah, I’m good.” Now, I love me some doom, but I don’t expect everyone else to. But UK group Indesinence tackles doom with both variation in style and tempo, as well as with an impressive ear for melody. Like Pallbearer, they’re maybe more accurately a heavy prog group (the album cover suggests as much), and a very good one at that. Not too many doom metal albums have risen toward the top for me this year (yet, but that’ll change soon), though Indesinence is a step in the right direction. (Profound Lore)
Mutoid Man‘s Bleeder: I’ve written about Mutoid Man in a past edition of Shadow of the Horns, and they’re a hell of a lot of fun. Featuring members of Cave In and Converge, they’re a lot catchier and more to the point than either of those bands, playing a heavy style of rock ‘n’ roll rather than the artful metalcore of Steve Brodsky and Ben Koller’s other bands. If you have 30 minutes to spare and just want to get your rocks off, this is a good way to go about it. (Sargent House)
Locrian‘s Infinite Dissolution: If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I gravitate toward the bands that are willing to do something a little different, or buck tradition in the name of a great song. Locrian is one of those bands, their songwriting largely based in electronics and their sound only marginally metal. It’s heavy, and it’s intense, but there’s such an eclectic mix of styles and approaches here that to call it metal doesn’t really capture the whole of it. Stunning. (Relapse)
Vanum‘s Realm of Sacrifice: A black metal duo comprising members of Ash Borer and Fell Voices, Vanum do the dark and atmospheric thing quite nicely. They play exactly the kind of metal that you’d expect, given the personnel, which is far from a bad thing. Kyle Morgan and Michael Rekevics have already cultivated a certain aesthetic in their respective bands, and Realm of Sacrifice builds on that with a handful of lengthy but stellar compositions that enhance an already good thing. (Profound Lore)
Former Enabler bass player Amanda Daniels went public about how the band’s frontman, Jeff Lohrber was both physically and psychologically abusive to her. It’s, frankly, horrible and disgusting, and another former bandmate, Dustin Albright, not only confirmed Lohrber’s abusive nature, but added some of his own accounts of things that happened on the road. Abusive behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and coming from someone who plays music in a genre that’s generally seen as being masculine, this sends a truly horrible message. No fan of metal should tolerate this from any artist, and while it’s awful that Daniels had to endure what she did, I tip my hat for her openness and honesty, which I can only imagine must be a difficult thing to revisit, given all that’s happened. (And from this point forward, you can expect to see no more discussion of Enabler in Shadow of the Horns.)
But you will see plenty of discussion about Deafheaven, who have a new album coming out in October. I’m stoked, but I’ll save more discussion for later.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.