Part 1 of a 2-part feature on the band's most ambitious effort to date, a true Burkean beast.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
On November 11th, deathcore giants Chelsea Grin ushered in Suffer in Hell via ONErpm — one half of a larger being, Suffer in Hell, Suffer in Heaven, that exists as a byproduct of the harrowing naturing of life itself. This narrative is brought to life through Adam Burke's wondrous artistry in the form of his Transfigure painting, exploring the duality of mankind through beauty and light amidst the darkness. Despite their separate timelines of inception, Suffer in Hell becomes one with Adam's Transfigure piece in ways told by bone crushing instrumentation and intentional lyricism, speaking to the power of cohesive audiovisuals. It encourages repeated listens as you get lost in the grander world being built by a careful approach to its visual and conceptual identity. Chelsea Grin's contemporary strengths are on full display here as it fires away on all cylinders. We've only scratched the surface of what awaits this momentous chapter in their career.
We go Behind the Cover of Suffer in Hell with guitarist Stephen Rutishauser to detail the commonality found with Adam's Transfigure, the state of mind that informs such an ambitious undertaking, and more as we celebrate the first taste of a comprehensive composition well worth its merits:
Part one of the 'Suffer in Hell, Suffer in Heaven' double LP is here and introduces your most grandiose effort yet, marking a big leap from 2018's 'Eternal Nightmare'. You've invested so much of your own life experiences into its development and now that the tracks are in heavy circulation, in what mindset does it find you in?
Stephen: It's a crazy and exciting feeling to be releasing music, especially right now. There's a huge emotional and mental release to finally have these out. The rollout has been fantastic from the moment we put out the first single, 'Origin of Sin'.
Releasing 'Suffer in Hell' was such a weight lifted off my shoulders, but then it's also a weight added to my shoulders because you put in years and years into making something and you of course want it to go well. We have to watch how people feel about it, watch people react to it, and observe the business side of things to measure success, which is an inevitable part of the industry of course. It's kind of a roller coaster, man. It's like 70% exciting and 30% scary as hell, but overall, it's definitely a gratifying feeling. It's why we do what we do: putting out albums and getting music out to the fans.
The fear and pre-release excitement never changes, does it? You've been at this for about 15 years now and you of course have grown in great lengths as people and as musicians. Has putting ideas down on paper and seeing them evolve into full fledged compositions gotten easier over the years as you've matured plenty since first starting?
Stephen: You know, I feel like it's gotten harder in a way because there's a standard. We would like to think that we're increasing the quality and the emotional effectiveness of our music as we grow. We're setting this standard for ourselves, you know? We always want to achieve more than we have, so with this new release, we tried to set the bar higher than our last record. This goes backwards all the way back to the first one, 'Desolation of Eden' (2010). It's all about growth.
I'm very meticulous with the creative process. I spend weeks and months sitting in dark rooms, wherever I can, trying to write. It's a sort of self competition. I'm not competing with anyone else out here on the scene, I'm competing with myself to do something better. It's difficult because it's not like I've got an expiration date on how many songs I can write and I'm getting to the end of it. It's more about effectively conveying everything I'm trying to convey and maturing in the process. Maturing happens naturally, but it does take some effort to truly grow into a new sound or develop a new sound altogether. Songwriting definitely hasn't gotten easier. It's gotten more intense and there's a lot of personal investment that goes into these things. It's a taxing process and it takes time. This is no complaint whatsoever, though. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but it's very, very demanding and it only gets more demanding as time goes.
That's an interesting perspective, especially because some bands often dial in to a formula and stick to it over the years, falling into a comfort zone that fits in the ears of a faithful fanbase. This is quite the contrary and you've pushed your sound and lyricism to new heights, which extends to the visuals. You went from Aiff Andriansyah to Adam Burke for 'Suffer in Hell', which sports a beautiful yet harrowing cover illustration that represents this effort altogether. What sparked your interest in Adam's work and what were you looking for when approaching him for the project?
Stephen: We wanted to look at this whole album as a new era and we felt that everything about the release had to let people know that this is not Chelsea Grin as you've always known it. Even before I was in the band, Chelsea Grin has seen growth from one album to the next in some way. There's always been some sort of sonic difference because the band has never had a formula. This change had to be represented in every aspect of the release and the artwork is unlike anything we've ever had. We've never had anything like what Adam did here.
I found out he lived in Portland and though I haven't met him, people recommended I check out his stuff. I was blown away. Immediately, I thought, "This is different from anything we've done." Looking at it should let people know that this is going to be a more mature record, or to some, just a different step, a step forward that marks a change. We wanted the visuals to indicate that.
Adam's art does just that and it's easily the band's best to date. 'Suffer in Hell' sports half of the larger cover illustration, which of course was split to fit each half of the double LP release. Is there something to be learned from the duality of the title and how it correlates with the art, the likes of which was created years prior to the album's development? Was there an intention in mind here with regards to 'Suffer in Hell' in particular?
Stephen: Personally, I think it's quite accessible. The darkness of the album cover compared to the heavenly side is reflected sonically too. Heaven is no less heavy, no less evil, and no less gnarly than hell. Visually, it was convenient that the piece works together in a way where we could split it to mark an intentional distinction. One side is lighter and one side is darker. It important to us to the duality there, as you mention. We feel that the cover does a good job fitting with the titles.
As you note, we didn't commission the piece. Adam had this painted and readily available. When we saw it, we knew it was the one. We were considering commissioning a piece and had looked into a bunch of artists, but when we stumbled across this, we felt it was perfect. I instantly saw the two squares in it that would fit the album cover parameters, and then we then have the larger picture altogether that's going to bring it all together.
It's always neat when bands are able to craft a new experience from something that wasn't initially meant for it, like 'Suffer in Hell' does with a pre-existing artwork. You also have those nightmarish videos that Eric DiCarlo did a fantastic job on. How important was it for you all to establish such a strong and comprehensive visual identity for this release?
Stephen: Now more than ever, it's important for bands to have that consistent visual representation, which is present in your merch, in your album artwork, in your tour posters and all of these album affiliated things. Anything people are going to see in your music videos, anything people are going to see throughout an album cycle has to fit the aesthetic that you're going for. It has to convey that emotion and be in line with your intention for this creative endeavor. Like I was saying before, we wanted the cover to indicate that this is a new era.
We've done three videos now for the three singles, each one with Eric and each was meticulous and intentional. We wanted to do them all with the same person because we want to have this consistency. The 'Origin of Sin' video is dark and more entwined with the theme of the song and the lyrics. We then have the 'Forever Bloom' music video, which was fun. We dressed up as goblins, wizards, and knights playing Dungeons and Dragons in a cabin. Even though it's a funny video in a sense, it all kind of ties in together. If you stick to an aesthetic, if you stick to a certain quality of production, audiences almost subliminally realize that this isn't just business as usual. This is very serious. This is being taken seriously by the artists. They're not just putting things together because they have to. They're doing things with intention, with purpose. For this whole album cycle, we set ourselves on not deviating from that path.
You truly get the value in investing on the visual element, Stephen. As noted before, it's always neat when you can build off of an existing piece because Adam likely had a distinct intention in mind for the piece as he painted it. Regardless, you found commonality with it. Despite the separate timeline of inception, where do you feel that the painting and the albums exist as one cohesive being?
Stephen: It's interesting because the piece itself is called 'Transfigure' and it's perfect for what we're going for since we're looking at this era of our band as a transfiguration. We've been together all these years and I've only been writing for the band for about seven years or so now. The band has been around for a long time and though I wasn't a part of a few albums, I feel like we're finally hitting our stride of what we want to write. 'Suffer in Hell' is exactly what we want to show you guys and we have transfigured into not necessarily our final form, but further down the path of transformation into the entity that we want to be. We are down the line from our final form. We're shifting and morphing.
You kind of see the transfiguration when you look at the painting as one. It's here that you see what Adam meant by "transfigure" and it just automatically works beautifully. The cover of 'Suffering in Heaven' portrays a woman staring towards the sun into a landscape and for 'Suffer in Hell', we've got this very dark sort of ghostly figure. It worked perfectly; I can't say that enough. It was a too good to be true sort of thing, you know? We looked at a lot of artwork and were considering commissioning stuff from different people, but when we stumbled across this, it fit the album's themes and where we are in our career as people, not just a band. It shows where we are as individuals and as a creative entity.
It's an extension of not just the album but the band as a whole. Continuing down that line, would you say that you are all insular as songwriters, where you write to please your own creative ambitions? Or is there a direct intention behind your work?
Stephen: When I'm writing, I'm just writing for myself. I'm writing whatever I want to write. It's nice because we've engraved in the band's legacy that every record has had a sort of different sound to it. At this point, nothing is off the table for the band. Any sound we want to include in a song is fair game because at some point or another, the band has already touched on it. If we want to take a black metal influence, we've touched on that already. I come from death metal as a writer, which we've touched on with the deathcore parts. We can have breakdowns wherever we want them, we can do anything we want. I think that's a really cool feature and why I love writing for this band. There are no rules. When I'm writing, it's purely about writing what feels good. Even when it comes down to structuring songs, I'm not thinking about my parts leading to a chorus or a bridge. It's all about expressing myself as honestly and as purely as I possibly can.
There's also the other side. We went four years without putting out a record, so when the time came to be in the studio, we thought we needed to consider the fans and how long they've gone without new music. I brought like 30 ideas to the studio thinking we need to bring them more than what they might expect. We need to bring them more than just one album. Usually, albums tend to cap off at 10 or 11 songs, but why not give people what they deserve and give people a huge double album payout after this wait? Creatively, it's very selfish. It's very much about us expressing what we want to express.
We're at a point in our career where we have to be doing what we want to do. Otherwise, it's just not going to be worth it. For 'Suffer in Hell, Suffer in Heaven', all parties were considered.
From reading through YouTube and Instagram comments, it seems you've pleased all parties too. What role did camaraderie play in the development of 'Suffer in Hell' and the double album entirely? You all have of course built relationships with countless bands on tour and exchanged ideas, which in some way informs the creative development and your own growth as a musician, right?
Stephen: None of us live in the same state, so getting together not really an option through most of this. It was mostly written remotely. I did a lot of the writing in different spaces as I moved out and just traveled a ton. The camaraderie part of it came into play when we were in the studio actually recording it, working with a producer who was giving us ideas. That's when I feel like our band really shines is, when we're polishing off the product. That's when we really take it to the next level because we're all together.
We wanted Tom (Barber, vocals) to be able to do his own thing. We didn't really give him strict direction for what we wanted for lyrics. We just wanted him to really express hisself and pour hisself into these lyrics. The same goes for all of our parts. Even though we're not so involved or sit in the same room when writing, the camaraderie of supporting each other to express ourselves freely is what I value. There are no combative conversations being had. This evolving organism of Chelsea Grin has a natural flow that winded up being what it is because there's no real restrictions. It's very a free process. Our friendship and our bond as brothers and business partners does strengthen the writing and overall creative development, We feel a strong passion for this band, which fuels the music we create. Again, it's not so much a hands on process in a room. Instead, we're all emotionally connected wherever we are. Thanks to technology, you can create so much and be in constant contact, emailing songs, sending things back and forth.
The dynamics certainly change with writing remotely, but if you're able to overcome the distance and capitalize on technology, you can work wonders. As we close out this first part of the feature, I want to highlight that 'Suffer in Hell' captures your feelings and thoughts and emotions at the moment of writing it. As you see this first album roll out and be dissected by listeners across the globe, has your perspective on it changed at all?
Stephen: It's interesting to listen to these records because I had written a large part of them within a couple years of our last release in 2018. Some of these songs were even written before 'Eternal Nightmare', so when I listened to some of the songs, it was a time capsule. For me, it's sort of like a Pandora's box. When I open it, it sort of transports me to where I was at the time of writing them. I mean, once I listened to every single song on these records, I recall where I was when I wrote it. I recall what I was feeling when I wrote it and it's kind of a trip. It's very introspective. Like you said, it sort of forces you to reflect. When I do listen to it, it takes me back to a point in time very viscerally. It transports me to a different place and puts me back in that mindset. I may not be not feeling the exact same emotions, but it puts me on the same path that I walked along to create this. The creation process for this record has been going on for four and a half years, which is a lot of time to cover, so there's a lot of that introspection going on when I sit and listen to it. Those are four years of memories and feelings to put into this little time capsule. It's like reading an old diary.
Suffer in Hell is available now via ONErpm (Stream/Order).