Exploring An Agonizing Account of Grief: An Interview with Mike DiSalvo (AKURION, ex-CRYPTOPSY)

Diving deep into the frontman's latest and most heartfelt effort.

Words by Rohan (@manvsplaylist):

Come Forth To Me is the name of the new debut album from Montreal outfit AKURION. This group of metal lifers have emerged from numerous setbacks to deliver one of the year’s most sophisticated, balanced and poignant releases in extreme music.

The group is made up of a collection of some of Montreal’s finest. Fronted by none other than the incomparable (if by no other metric than the ability to inspire debate amongst metalheads!) Mike DiSalvo (vocals, COMA CLUSTER VOID, ex-CRYPTOPSY), Rob Milley (guitars, NEURAXIS, TORN WITHIN, ex-PHOBOCOSM), Oli Pinard (bass, CRYPTOPSY, CATTLE DECAPITATION), and Tommy McKinnon (drums, COMA CLUSTER VOID, ex-NEURAXIS & AUGURY). Over the years the project has found itself in various stages of development, recording, limbo, tragedy, and now finally – release. A statement from the label helps give some context to the challenging timetable that Come Forth To Me has faced:


“The band was originally teasing this material back in 2015. Due to Mike's wife's terminal illness, Genevieve DiSalvo, who sadly left our world in 2018 and Oli's schedule once he joined Cattle Decapitation, the band was put on indefinite hiatus until it felt right and everyone was in a good place to move this band forward.”

The result of these years of persistence, toil, and sadly tragic events is now here. The culmination of this challenging process is an album steeped in creative technicality, and overflowing with range of both stylistic and mood shifts that span the entire length of the record. It serves as a haunting tribute to those whose memory it honors, and testament to the creative vision that each member brought to the table.

During a recent catch-up via phone, we were able to get some input from Montreal-based Mike DiSalvo himself on various aspects of the project’s evolution, the turbulent and tragic path it has followed, as well as insights into Mike’s own storied background.

Mike begins by explaining how the AKURION project began to take shape back in 2012:


“It was me and Rob (guitarist Rob Milley), we used to work down the street from one another, we’ve known each other for years, we’d meet up over lunch and Rob would tell me he had some riffs and some fully worked songs that he’d put together, and we said “well - let’s get together!” So I had him over to the house and he started playing me pretty much full songs from the record. And we started getting together the two of us, putting some words together, some titles together, and we started piecing it together like that. And once we had a solid base of general ideas for what direction we wanted to go, we decided “let’s bring some other people in”.
So we connected with Tommy (who Rob had played and toured with previously on Neuraxis), so it was the three of us and then we brought in Oli (Pinard) within the month. He was with Cryptopsy at the time so there was a lot of scheduling that we had to figure out sometimes along this journey, but we work well together and I think it shows.”

Mike DiSalvo, Akurion

The album is thick with a haunting, dark overtone. Not just in the compositions or the lyrical component, but it’s emotional heft is amplified when considering the tragic life events that would fall on several members of the band not long after the recoding process had been completed (Rob’s father also sadly passed in 2017). These thematic concepts of loss, grief and moving on however were not a reaction to those circumstances, rather, they tragically foretold moments of one of life’s most wretched and agonizing experiences. Mike elaborates:


“The crazy thing about it all, throughout all this stuff, my wife was ill, and Rob’s dad was ill. But the end result hadn’t happened. So through that illness, sure there was a lot of thoughts on that end, but any song that’s related to passing - it hadn’t happened. So this was sort of an unfortunate piece to the puzzle after the fact, after this record was written, that just sort of placed it together. It is really melancholic in just that regard alone.
I hate to say it was almost foreseen, because both of us had hope, and we hoped that both people that eventually succumbed would surpass it – but unfortunately neither one did. So the album has a special meaning for all four us, but no doubt that lyrically and musically as well, there is something there that perhaps Rob & I feel maybe a bit more towards, not taking anything away from the other two guys. But I think, we both went through something terrible and I don’t think there’s any way that either one of us can escape it. And every time I listen to that album, I can’t escape it.”

The music itself is intricate and tightly nuanced across each of the nine tracks that make up the album. It is adventurous, with several songs landing at around the 9 minute mark, and the sprawling 11.5 minute track Souvenir Gardens. The band are clearly seeking to push stylistic boundaries. As a project free of expectations, their creativity has given rise to some exceptionally unique approaches. Come Forth To Me features a consistently diverse set of arrangements, with frequent tempo and mood shifts. At no point are any of these movements frivolous, distracted or forced. They are testament to the songwriting capabilities of this group, who are dedicated to their craft, respectful of the path they’ve trodden, and fully embracing the direction they want to take this art form in moving forward.

In Mike’s own words, his perspectives on the overall mood, style and feel of the album are enlightening:


“Well I think it’s progressive. It is progressive, there’s a progressive and somber tone and feel to the album. We purposefully wanted to write something that wasn’t cookie cutter for this album, something that wasn’t “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4”. But we also didn’t want to do something that wasn’t so over-the-top technical that it was just technical for technical’s sake. We wanted to do something that was technical, had some progressions in it that brought you on different journeys throughout the songs. But we also wanted that sort of dark feel to it, we wanted it heavy.
We wanted a lot of stuff that was mid-tempo. And I think we succeeded with that. There’s not a lot of fast stuff on there. But through Rob’s guitar playing there’s a lot nuances that really brings you to or leads you to that emotional level.”

The synergistic energy that the band has managed to capture on Come Forth To Me is significant. The guitar work of Rob Milley is precise and intricate, blessed with a thick, rich tone all while still maintaining a clarity of sound that allows for full appreciation of his complex, layered riffing. Despite this technical proficiency, the entire feel achieved across the whole album is extremely fluid, almost to the point where it swings in parts. This can be attributed to the measured and interweaving bass lines laid down by Oli Pinard, himself no stranger to technicality and blistering speed. But unlike his other current projects, in AKURION, Oli is able to explore a wider range of tempos, giving him room to unearth more layers of atmosphere and nuance. Amongst the chaos of the interweaving guitar and bass lines, the songs carry a bright, emotional harmony in the chord progressions, and a consistent level of intrigue. Behind the kit, Tommy McKinnon keeps everything locked in tight. Pounding, swelling, and endlessly swaying in and out of different time signatures, he maintains a deadly punch and manages to perfectly balance the right amount of individual flair without distracting from the overall track itself.


Akurion

The album also features a rich collection of guest appearances, mostly contributed by fellow Montreal metal stalwart friends, hailing from bands such as GORGUTS, VENGEFUL, and members of former projects including CRYPTOPSY and COMA CLUSTER VOID. Each adds their own important element to the track they feature on, and their inclusion serves as a highly successful component in creating an album that is stylistically varied. Never is it monochromatic, there always seems to be a subtle twist at multiple points throughout that keeps the songs sounding fresh. Mike indicated that despite the sheer number of guests that appear throughout the record, it was all a seamless process:


“They came together very very easily. The parts that we have the guest vocalists come in are all parts that were written for those people. These are people that I admire tremendously, and we all do. This was just as simple as writing a part for them and then bringing them into the studio and having them joining our interpretation of the songs. It was very smooth and it was absolutely by design to have this many people be a part of it.
I love music and I love to play with people, and I for one love to have many people be a part of a project. This wasn’t just a thing where we were adding them in as a kind of “ah I see you’re in the local studio, why don’t you just come on in and scream UUUGGGHHHH for me here” or some bullshit. No. These people, their voice tells a story, just as much as my voice or just much as Rob’s guitars or Oli’s bass or Tommy’s drums. That was the end goal – to make sure their voice spoke in the song itself.”

A standout of these guest vocal appearances takes place on the second track on the record. Titled Petals From A Rose Eventually Wither To Black, it begins with a galloping rhythm inflected with an undeniable groove. At the midpoint of the track, a gentle floating vocal harmony line appears hiding in the distance behind several chaotic passages, bringing an added emotional weight to an already haunting climax of the song. Those backing vocal harmonies were provided by none other than Mike’s late wife Genevieve. Mike explains:


“Those were the last vocals that she recorded, that was the last song that I recorded with her in this house. I wanted the song on the album, I wanted in some ways to help preserve her voice to be heard. I’m fortunate enough to have her voice on several albums, she’s on the Coma Cluster Void project that I’m on as well. She did some recordings towards the end of her days, and I would never dream of not having those songs see the light of day.”

One of the first singles to see the light of day from the album is the white-knuckled rager The Year of the Long Pig. The track marches along at a dizzying pace, with spiraling guitar speed amidst a cacophony of blasts and other-wordly fills. It serves as the album’s most venomous expression of vile rage & disgust. A direct gut-punch to the senses, and a total headbangers delight. Mike helped set the scene a little further by sharing an insight into the origin & theme of song:


“To start with, I am the “year of the pig” in Chinese zodiac so there was that kind of approach, but I thought it’d be funny to add “long pig” which is what indigenous people used to call humans when they’d land on their islands. We tasted like pigs, but we weren’t pigs, we were “long pigs”. The satirical approach on this was to have something that was to really showcase the disgusting, perverse nature of mankind. And how much that we just shit all over each other, there’s no camaraderie or very little of it that we see, and to the point of killing and murdering and people don’t even bat an eye at it any more. So that was the approach with it. In the concept of full genocides, there are just these amazing pieces of madness that can happen, and it’s all done by mankind to one another.”

The cover art for the album features a mysterious, ghostly bi-color orange on black image of a non-descript being making its journey along an unknown passageway. The painting is the perfect visual representation for the ideas explored across the album. Mike shares how it all came about, interestingly through another ex-CRYPTOPSY connection:


“This was actually a painting that was done by Martin Lacroix (one-time Crypotopsy vocalist featured on the live record “None So Live”). The guy’s a brilliant artist. So I think it was Oli (Pinard) who had a picture of the original painting that was on this long piece of wood, and the second I saw it - right away I was like “dude that’s it! That’s the album cover right there”. I pushed heavily on it, but this was even before we had the album title. But then as the album title had come into frame, and we had this piece it just hit me, like honestly “this is Come Forth To Me!
For me, I’ll speak for myself, the meaning I get from it is embracing people to get what we put out, or dig it or shit on it or whatever it is, love it hate it, whatever it is. You’re coming forth to the album, that passageway brings you forth to what our interpretation of this record is. You can certainly take the whole aspect of the death sequence that had taken place and all that, yes it does have those synergies – no question about it. But if I’m to think about it in a different light, and not just focus on the dreadful meaning of this album collectively in terms of what had gone on, I like to really look at it as something that is a bit more of something that is optimistic in the sense of bringing people together in this musical journey, if you will.”

One cannot mention the name Mike DiSalvo without reference to his storied CRYPTOPSY predecessor Dan Greening (AKA Lord Worm). The two will forever remain inseparable by virtue of the opinions espoused by one and all (fans and haters alike) on two of death metal’s high water-mark albums in None So Vile and Whisper Supremacy. The merits of this debate are not the topic of this piece (we’ll save that for over beers at the next show!). Such debate however is likely to be reignited once again, as Lord Worm drops in to make guest appearances on two tracks on the record, adding backing vocals on the opener Leave Them Scars, and the closer Kingdom Overcome. Dan’s addition is a fitting nod to many of the real-life journeys the subject matter on the album mirrors. For Mike, Lord Worm’s involvement was never in question:


“So first off, I’m very good friends with Dan. I see him often, I see him all the time. It’s a very close friendship, it’s the kind of friendship where we’ll get together and just buy like 40 to 50 beers, and he, myself and Genevieve, would sit together and just taste test all of them over the course of the night, hanging out, spinning vinyl. He is a close friend ya know, my kids know him well.
Now, his vocals are as crazy and unhinged as anyone’s! Nobody’s like that! So for me, there’s always been that weird thing that’s gone on with Cryptopsy where you’ve got one camp that is a huge fan of him and that hate my guts, or you’ve got a fan base that likes me and doesn’t like him. For whatever stupid reason, there’s been this divide with what’s gone on in that band. And he and I would always just sit back and laugh about this shit all the time! Because we thought “ahh..if they only knew!” If only they could see us hanging out and laughing and reading all this shit!! It’s kind of an inside joke between us. So I’ve always said, “well fuck, any time I do an album I want him on the record!” There’s no question about it. We did it with Coma Cluster Void. And all the parts that he’s on the Akurion record were all written specifically for him.”

It’s not hard to imagine that this isn’t a not-so-subtle trolling the audience moment here from these two long-time friends. Mike agrees:


“Absolutely. It’s kind of like a little bit of a give back. To anyone who’s ever kind of been along that divide, we’re just saying “look – we are not divided like that, so maybe you guys shouldn’t be divided like that!”

Mike DiSalvo, Akurion

Mike himself is well aware of the debate that has raged amongst the underground metal community spanning several decades now. When asked how heavily that type of talk weighed on him and how much of an influence that was both during his time in the band (CRYPTOPSY) and then when he stepped aside from it, Mike is very much composed and resolute:


“Well I’ll tell you from the inside I take those kind of comments and I’ll accept it and then I drop it. I don’t linger on any of those type of comments. I’ve had some wonderful accolades written about me, and I’ve had some absolute fucking brutal shit written about me! And that’s fine!! And I won’t use this assholes name 'coz I don’t like the guy, but there is a guy from KISS that actually says “talk about me good, talk about me bad – just talk about ME”. And for whatever stupid reason that resonated with me.
Especially during that period of time, I definitely felt confident in my capabilities. So if you liked it you liked it, and if you don’t you don’t – and that’s cool! There’s vocalists I don’t like, there’s vocalists I love, ya know – whatever! It doesn’t matter. So I think the person who let’s that shit get to them is the person who is out of the scene real fast if they can’t handle it! And that’s not me! I don’t really care! I’ve had some comments written that I’ve seen where I’ve been like “motherfucker if you’d said that to my face I would bury you! Haha” But then as soon as I say that, I’m like “argh, whatever..! It’s done. Fuck it. It’s written and I don’t care!”

From those CRYPTOPSY days up to the present, Mike DiSalvo’s vocal work in AKURION remains as vicious, precise and punishing as ever. The characteristics that have always defined his vocal performance are as strong here as anything else he’s done over his infamous career. The depths of his agony, loss and rage are undeniable. He is surrounded by an all-star band that have such a tight grip on these intricate, jagged and off-kilter rhythms. The pacing of the songs are expertly balanced, with the ability to move from a hard groove, then slowing to a sludgy crawl, then finally ratcheting all the way back up to full throttle blasts.

Come Forth To Me is a thoroughly engaging, diverse listen from front to back. Somehow, there manages to be a constant balance between punishing blasts, fluid, twisting riffs and slower, quieter atmospheres. AKURION as a band and as individuals now bear some of life’s deepest scars, and have managed to produce an album full of intense rage, haunting undertones and unflinching emotional reflection.


The record is out on April 10th via Redefining Darkness Records. Stream the blistering lead single Year of the Long Pig below and get your copy HERE.

Cover art by Martin Lacroix

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