Taming Adversity: A Conversation With High Priestess Nighthawk of HEAVY TEMPLE

Flipping the script of a well-known tale through psychedelic doom.

heavy temple
Photograph by Gene Smirnov

After closing out night 1 of this weekend's Live On Front festivities at The International Bar, Philadelphia's HEAVY TEMPLE continue the course towards the arrival of their debut full-length, Lupi Amoris. Arriving on June 18th via Magnetic Eye Records, Lupi Amoris comes well adorned by the exceptional art of Alex Reisfar, who elaborates on the album's conceptual themes and helps establish the album's visual identity.


Sonically, HEAVY TEMPLE's High Priestess Nighthawk (vocals/bass), Lord Paisley (guitar), and Baron Lycan (drums) concoct an electrifying body of psychedelic doom that soars as high as its riffs. With opener A Desert, Lupi Amoris sets the energy high from the get go and maintains it steadily through the closing solos of Howling, rounding out one enthralling record ripe for the live stage. It's a well-rounded experience that comes equipped with an exquisite cover, richly layered instrumentation, and a message to learn from.


In anticipation of the release, we talk to the band's High Priestess Nighthawk about all things Lupi Amoris:

After a set of EPs and a crushing split with Wolfblood, you’re now ready to unleash your debut full-length recording, ‘Lupi Amoris’, to the world. Where does this debut find you all after nearly a decade of sonic exploration and growth?


High Priestess: Oh man. It's been a long journey. This album spans nearly every line up as far as when the songs were written and we intended to record it several times, just never got there. It's really nice to be able to put this out finally, because I think it's the best one yet. We work really well together and I think that shows on 'Lupi Amoris'. We're really excited for what's to come.

gene smirnov heavy temple
Photograph by Gene Smirnov

It shows! Conceptually, ‘Lupi Amoris’ harnesses greatly from Angela Carter's “The Bloody Chamber” (1979), but more specifically the "The Company of Wolves" from that collection of short stories. The story itself explores breaking free from the traditional norms of sexuality and power through a flip of the Red Riding Hood tale that everyone has come to know. Where did you find commonalities with the book, enough to where you found the drive to craft a record around it?


High Priestess: The songs existed before the lyrics and theme of the album started to take shape, but once I was introduced to "The Company of Wolves", it just kind of clicked. I had gone through some really significant and heavy life changes, and I felt very lost. Then, I met someone (at a festival in the woods, no less) who just seemed to show me the way out of this haze I was in and I thought, "One day I'm going to write an album about this". And here we are.


In this context, Heavy Temple is the embodiment of the Red Riding Hood and you’ve taken the helm of the wolf. What role do you feel that art plays in challenging stigmas and changing the narrative for topics like sexuality that are still somewhat seen as taboo?


High Priestess: I think everyone has something inside of them that they want to express, but perhaps lack the words to do so. That's where art steps in. Some art is beautiful, some art is disturbing and uncomfortable, some art is silly or fun, but really, my favorite creations are the ones that make me feel something, as if the artist is speaking to me directly. Being forced to confront something that we'd rather not talk about is necessary for growth and good art does that. It forces the conversation to be had.


Definitely, and it's a clear example of the power of art. ‘Lupi Amoris’ is a statement achieved through a hard-hitting take on psychedelic doom and visually, you’ve enlisted Alexander Reisfar for cover art duties, who truly captured the theme through his unique art style. What drew you to working with Alex for this one? Perhaps one of his previous covers?


High Priestess: He'd done some art for Muddy Roots Music Festival, and in scrolling through his Instagram page, I noticed that one of his paintings looks exactly like a friend of mine. Turns out it was that friend and she recommended him highly. He also did some art for Sabbath Assembly, who are a great band. I felt like the organic aesthetic of his paintings would lend itself really well to the imagery I was trying to conjure up with the theme of the songs, and he exceeded my expectations.

sabbath assembly
Cover art by Alex Reisfar

Agreed. He puts together some neat wolf designs, like his ‘Fenrir’ one that is actually used on the CD version of the record too. What were you looking for when approaching Alex for the project, which became the incredible ‘Wolf Rider’ painting?


High Priestess: I think the original Red Riding Hood tale is actually pretty dark already, but I wanted to go darker, to match the tone of the Carter version of the story. Our last couple of releases have had some rather colorful artwork. I wouldn't necessarily categorize the 'Lupi Amoris' art to be devoid of color, but rather it is only where it needs to be. It's honestly kind of hard to describe Alex's work, at least for me. I was just drawn to it, especially the wolves and other wildlife he paints.

alex reisfar
'Fenrir' by Alex Reisfar

Some artists prefer a lot of direction while others prefer vagueness, allowing for more openness when it comes to their interpretation of the themes being presented. How would you characterize the collaborative process with Alex throughout the way?


High Priestess: He was great to work with. I gave him a little background, sent him the Carter story and an unmixed version of the album to draw inspiration from. I think I also sent some images of Gustave Doré's interpretation of Red Riding Hood.

Gustave Doré
'The Disguised Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood' (1862) engraving by Gustave Doré

I grew up with one of them hanging in my parent's house, so maybe that was in the back of my mind. He sent updates and I really dug the direction, so I just kind of handed him the reigns. As with the first two albums, I just gave the artists some ideas of concepts and imagery and I've never been disappointed. Trust the process, as they say.


Even beyond just the cover, you worked with Gene Smirnov on promo photos that expand upon the theme excellently. Ritual Video did it on the video end. How significant was it for you to have this all-encompassing approach to the visual aspect of the release, especially at a time where many of these efforts go unnoticed due to streaming being the dominant form of music consumption?


High Priestess: Gene is a fantastic photographer and Tom did a wonderful job with the video. It was really a pleasure to see it all come together. I think since Heavy Temple has always been mostly DIY and this is our first time being on a label that we really had the opportunity and freedom to make this record what we wanted. All of our releases have been concept-based, but to be honest, everything just kind of came together pretty painlessly. It was definitely a concern because of the pandemic, partly, and the inundation of social media that some of this would go unnoticed, but we're really happy with the overwhelming response to the album and everything that's gone into it.

heavy temple
Photograph by Gene Smirnov

Touching again on Gene’s photos, they help bring each member’s nom de guerre to life and truly build upon the album’s atmosphere. Where did you find common ground with Gene, Alex, Ritual Video, and Zach Thomas when establishing the visual identity for ‘Lupi Amoris’?


High Priestess: Pretty much everyone knows the story of Red Riding Hood, so using that as a starting point made things relatively cohesive with all the artists we worked with. Also, the communication was great between everyone. The album art came first, then the pictures, then the video, and all in a pretty short time. We had some hiccups with the video due to Covid, but all things considered, Tom was able to execute it wonderfully. Zach has done several designs for us, including one for the very first shirt we ever made, and the new logo for this album fits perfectly. All the artists were chosen because of their body of work and we thought they would be the best bunch of folks to execute visually what we created sonically.


It all came together so perfectly. Philadelphia has such a strong presence in metal and music overall with a lot of it being rooted in the strength of the underground. How much did the city and the scene’s camaraderie play a role in the development of ‘Lupi Amoris’?


High Priestess: We're very proud to be from Philly and there are so many good bands here. It was actually Zach Thomas who suggested reaching out to Lord Paisley when the lineup changed. Also, I believe our first show as this iteration of the band was with Ruby the Hatchet. Then, we got to go on the road with Ecstatic Vision. Through all that playing, we got to really craft these songs into what we wanted them to be, and ultimately record the best versions of these songs at the time. Everyone here really supports each other and it feels good to be creating music around positive energy, especially over the last year and a half.


From Maryland Doom Fest to Psycho Las Vegas and Decibel Metal & Beer Festival, you’ve graced a wide variety of stages. ‘Lupi Amoris’ arrives at a time when live shows are slowly making their return and audiences will get their first chance to see it in the flesh at your ‘Live On Front’ show. How excited were you all to rip through the new tracks on stage? Having listened through the record, one could say that these are going to translate well in the live setting.


High Priestess: To be honest, I think we're all a little anxious. We've been playing in the basement for over a year now, so being in front of people will almost be strange, but we're also ready to shred. It's been a long time and I think once we get on stage, get those first little butterflies in our stomachs, and feel the electricity in the air from the crowd, it'll be like things never stopped.


Judging from fan posts throughout this weekend's show, the tracks translated over quite well! The cover and accompanying photos are sure to introduce plenty of new listeners to the Heavy Temple experience. In closing, do you recall a time when an album cover, movie poster, book cover, or artwork in general had a similar effect of introducing you to something you wouldn’t otherwise check out?


High Priestess: Absolutely. I've definitely bought albums before because of the covers. As an adult, scanning through the endless movie choices on streaming services, occasionally I'll scroll past a movie and remember seeing the VHS cover at my local video store as a child. Art stays with you, regardless of medium.

Lupi Amoris arrives on June 18th via Magnetic Eye Records. Pre-order yours HERE.

heavy temple
Cover art by Alex Reisfar