Diving into the band's upcoming full-length and the Chad Wehrle cover fronting it.
Words by Luis (@luis.hoa):
Decades from the glory days of Floridian death metal and the sunshine state continues to deliver the goods during the genre's contemporary renaissance. Among those continuing to carry the torch are THE ABSENCE, a band brimming with creative energy ever present as they prepare for the release of their fifth full-length, Coffinized.
Coffinized, which arrives on June 25th on M-Theory Audio, is the culmination of years of growth characterized by periods of hiatus, lineup changes, and label changes. Though one could see these circumstances as setbacks, THE ABSENCE change the narrative and have risen stronger time and time again with Coffinized being very well their best composition yet. They've embraced the DIY aesthetic for this release cycle, taking on the engineering, production, mixing, and art direction for it all, leading to one cohesive melodic death metal effort. The band's compositional variety allows for the band to stray from linear tendencies and truly radiate with each passing track. On the visual end, THE ABSENCE partnered with Chad Wehrle to deliver the artistic embodiment of their ever so relatable thematic subjects. Coffinized is quite simply an all-encompassing affair of genuine camaraderie representative of the band's growth.
We sat down with frontman Jamie Stewart to talk all things Coffinized,
Five full lengths in and you’ve all crafted what I feel is the most enthralling effort in The Absence discography yet, serving as the culmination of years of growth. Despite the few lineup changes since your inception, where do you find The Absence as a band after nearly two decades of existence?
Stewart: Personally, I find it to be a joyous release and collaboration. I am in total awe of these three individuals and their abilities behind their instruments (and beyond). After all of these years and hardships, to release our best work to date…it really is a special thing.
Definitely. ‘Coffinized’ is really a hard-hitting composition that delivers on the technicality as much as it does on the lyricism. You’ve mentioned it stems heavily from the combustion of creativity that came from the quarantine. Would you say there’s a sense of relief as you near the record’s release?
Stewart: ABSOLUTELY!! There are more than a few factors that play into making/releasing a record. Once the record was written and demoed, we kept the creativity flowing and took on a lot of this work ourselves: Jeramie and Taylor produced/engineered, with Jeramie handling the mix for this beast!! Mike and I teamed up on the art direction for the album, with Jer and Taylor handling the layout. Deidra Kling (Jeramie’s partner) did all of the photography for the album as well. So, the satisfaction in finally seeing the fruits of your labors are immense, especially when you’re the one handing the process in-house!!
Full creative control here! For the ‘Coffinized’ album cover duties, you transitioned from Russia’s Stray Child and brought Chad Wehrle on board who just knocked it out of the park with a full gatefold painting. When scouting potential artists, what drew you to wanting to work with Chad?
Stewart: Mike was already friends with Chad, so he was the conduit in bringing his electricity to the machine! This time around, we wanted something stripped down and hand drawn/painted, as opposed to something crafted on a computer. So once we saw Chad’s artwork, it made perfect sense to have him onboard.
That existing relationship made it all the more easier. He did more than the cover and took on the lettering for the album title and band’s 'Skullerfly' logo, really bringing the band’s visual identity together, which extends towards the merch items as well. What were you looking for when approaching Chad with the project?
Stewart: We were looking for something that encompassed the melding point of day and night; highs and lows if you will. And with this in mind, Chad created the ‘album’ art as a whole: he hand-crafted the ‘Coffinized’ text/logo found on the cover itself - I wanted the album’s title to have it’s own original “logo” type feel. He also created the visuals internally as well. We were spitballing ideas for the layout itself, and he ended up making the “smokes” (as he calls them) that you see blessing the inside of the CD booklet, and LP insert.
The cover itself employs Chad’s unique black and white graphite style, depicting a set of characters carrying a coffin towards a chapel. You can say it’s representative of individuals walking towards their doom, though that’s of course open to interpretation. Where does the cover align with the record’s themes of entrapment and glory through despair?
Stewart: Well, walking towards one’s doom is certainly one way to perceive the art itself, but definitely not the only interpretation to be had.
What I see is a funeral procession. I see an assembly of people, bearing a coffin, making their way into a crumbling cathedral. Within the coffin could lie any number of things that darken our doorsteps - toxic relationships, poor mental health, addictions, ego, intolerance/prejudice, etc.
Things like the pandemic itself, quarantine, mass sickness & death, loneliness, and a general fear of the unknown… Although weary & worn, they are there to exhume themselves and those they love from these chains of fearful subservient toxicity, and in turn, bury them under the failing weight of it’s own feeble infrastructure.
Spot on. The beauty in it is that it can be interpreted in various different ways. Seeing as he captured the album’s themes immaculately, how would you characterize the collaborative process with Chad throughout the way?
Stewart: It was fantastic. Mike initiated the conversation with Chad, and really brought a breath of fresh air to the process. Chad is supremely talented, so we didn’t want to bog him down with an over abundance of information. The artist needs to be just that: an ARTIST! So, we gave him the lyrics, and the basic context behind the them and the album, and let him run wild with it, while maintaining a really luminous collaborative vibe. All in all, it was completely painless, and such a wonderful experience all around!!!
Great collaborative processes yield great results, as we can see here. The album’s release cycle is really the embodiment of the importance of full creative control. The visual elements benefit as a result with killer videos by way of Heavy Groove Media and more. How significant a role do you feel that visuals have played in conveying the messaging of ‘Coffinized’?
Stewart: I feel it to be very important. With that being said, I think that the varying perceptions and definitions of these things are also important, if not more so.
Even if you get a simple feeling from a cool visual or a deeper meaning from a certain shot or design, it all plays into the culture of the music created. The visual that must accompany the sound. At times, it can be profound, or it can simply be cool as hell!
Mike and I conceptualized the first two music videos - 'Choirs of Sickness' and 'Coffinized', respectively (both filmed by Deidra Kling). We put a great deal of time into story boarding, building props, building sets, coming up with color schemes, and over all direction. What an experience to physically put our collective hands on these videos! Daniel Wahlström from Heavy Groove Media filmed and cut the video for Black Providence, and in turn captured the brooding, yet empowering vibe in a really unique way! It came out looking so awesome!!
Definitely, and you've all excelled at creating an encompassing experience. Chad’s artwork is sure to entice many new listeners to experience ‘Coffinized’ without even having knowledge of The Absence. That said, 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?
Stewart: Oh hell yeah! More times than I can think of, I’ve purchased a record solely based on the album art. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but I feel like I’ve been on the winning end of that gamble more often than not!!
One record that comes to mind is 'Somewhere in Time' (1986) by Iron Maiden.
A Robotic Eddie, in a futuristic setting, looking like a Cyborg Gunslinger on the prowl, surrounded by hidden gems/references/jokes all throughout the background!!!
But, my first interaction with the album art did not yield an undying need to purchase the record. In fact, as a kid, when I saw this album cover, it scared the living hell out of me. Somebody brought the cassette to school, and showed it to me saying, “This is what the future looks like!" I was terrified at the thought of this cybernetic humanoid, smoking blaster in hand, mercilessly hovering besides his fresh kill. As an eight year old, I was shook.
Years later, when I was just blooming into the world of metal and collecting records, I came across the vinyl (the sheer size of a record cover alone benefits the visual experience far more than any other medium). All of those 3rd grade memories came rushing back, and I had not thought about that album’s art in so long. Once it all clicked in, I just laughed out loud, and I HAD to buy it!! Turns out, it is my favorite Maiden album!!!!
You and I share that sentiment. It's easily one of the best album covers across genres, across time, at least that's what I feel personally. In closing, ‘Coffinized’ follows your 2018 comeback record, ‘A Gift For The Obsessed’, in amazing fashion. This period of being “coffinized” is slowly coming to an end with shows now becoming a thing across the country. How do you hope to transmit the energy invested into the record onto the live stage?
Stewart: Safely of course!! It has been so long since we’ve played a show together… I think that once we hit the stage again, it might be the best show we’ll ever play, haha!!! Seriously though, we have always been fairly adept in a live setting, making it a point to try our best to make the musical experience that much better in the flesh!! Again, to accentuate the culture of the music, in a visceral and interactive setting!! I think with all of the emotions and experiences we’ve all faced behind locked doors, it is inevitable that the live connection with our fans will culminate into an exorcism in sheer screaming bliss!!!
Coffinized arrives on June 25th via M-Theory Audio. Pre-order your copy HERE.