Learn more about Glacial Tomb's brutal debut release, the unsettling cover art, and their upcoming tour plans.
Fans of heavy music have been spoiled throughout the year with the quantity of quality albums being released week after week. For example, October 26 saw the release of a large amount of great death metal records from artists such as Hate Eternal, Unleashed, Bloodbath, and Cryptopsy in one single day. It's November 12 and I actually still haven't had the chance to fully enjoy each record as my backlog continues to grow. However, there's one record in particular that I prioritized among that stacked lineup of releases for having caught my attention in the weeks leading up to the release. That record was the self-titled debut from Denver's Glacial Tomb.
Glacial Tomb, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson (Khemmis), bassist Connor Woods, and drummer Michael Salazar, is hard to categorize despite multiple listens. Although they've been tagged as blackened sludge, the band incorporates elements from black metal, melo-death, d-beat, slam, and practically anything that you'll find Ben Hutcherson listening to when he's at the gym. Regardless of what you categorize them as, Glacial Tomb's self titled debut drags you through hell and back with growls from the deepest depths of the underworld and a production so crisp and colossal.
We talk to the hardworking Ben Hutcherson about the making of their colossal self-debut record, the creative process of their unsettling cover art, and much more.
Congratulations on the new record release. After months, if not, years of writing, demoing, and recording, the record is finally out to the world. How do you feel?
I’ll never know what it’s like to give birth, but I can’t help but feel it’s the closest that I’ll ever know. I don’t necessarily mean the physical discomfort with bringing a child into the world, but definitely a lot of the same sort of emotional investment and the sort of existential fear. You ask yourself, “Is it going to make it? Are people going to pay attention, is it going to connect with people?”
With this album in particular, there was a lot of pain and a lot of emotional heft that went into shaping the songs. I think any musician, no matter where they are in their career, is going to feel a bit anxious. There’s a certain level of nakedness with offering some piece of yourself through creating art. Given what the three of us (Ben Hutcherson, Connor Woods, Michael Salazar) have gone through in the last couple of years and sort of what fueled these songs, I think that increases the feeling of nakedness.
You touched on something I wanted to ask about. Most of the songs on the album are incredibly driven by personal hardships and losses that each of you in the band had to endure over the years, but also the good that mankind is capable of, creating a balance between light and darkness. How did you approach the songwriting process to take on these subject matters?
I like that you point out the balance thing. I think balance is an important part of any kind of artistic endeavor because if you veer too far one way or the other, it can really quickly become a parody or caricature of what you intend for it to be. A lot of it is intuitive to some extent. I know I need to step back from lyrics if I find myself using the same words or phrases in more than one song. I think the same things happens with the music.
As we were writing and demoing, you listen back and get a feeling where you start to say, “This song feels like its melodies are not as balanced with the uglier parts like on some of the other songs.” We need to figure out what that balance looks like. You can’t just stick a caveman death metal riff in the middle of a black metal song and call it done. I’ll give you an example. Drowned on the new album started off as a very different song and it actually didn’t have much in the way of melody. What is now the chorus riff, that opening riff, was something a lot more discordant. It was very portal-esque, just lots of big grimy chords, lots of reverb on it. We were jamming, and I was like, “Guys, I think I have an idea. I'm hearing this thing in my head and I'm going to just start playing. I’m going to just push and prod, so tell me where you think the notes need to be.” Fifteen minutes later, we had that riff. It was a matter of being able to tap into a sorrowful kind of feeling to balance out with the more atonal, discordant parts.
I’m glad you touched on that. Aside from the balance in lyrical content, you also do that musically. There’s a beautiful blend of aggressiveness and melody, and then you incorporate different musical elements, whether that’s from death metal, melo-death, sludge, or black metal. How do you manage to create that hybrid?
There’s a running joke that my wife and I have that I only like 5 bands of any given genre. A lot of people know me from playing in Khemmis and assume that I listen to a lot of doom metal and stoner doom, and that’s totally not true. I like maybe 5 doom bands. In black metal, there’s really only about 5 I really like, you know like Weakling, Woe, Immortal. I get to 5 and after that, I’m pretty much good. I like a lot of different things and I find myself often listening to a wide variety of things. For instance this morning when I went to the gym, my playlist included Wormed, Defeated Sanity, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Necrophagist, and At the Gates. Essentially they’re all death metal, but they’re all very different, ranging from Wormed’s weird sci-fi tech-death stuff to Defeated Sanity’s primitive slammy kind of stuff.
I think because we listen to a lot of different shades of a given kind of music, it naturally ends up being the case. I don’t know how to write a whole song that sounds like Morbid Angel, because after the first Morbid Angel riff, I kind of want it to get melodic. At the same time, I don’t know how to write a whole song that sounds like At the Gates because if I have an At the Gates riff, I might want some death/doom part after it. That just feels more natural as a reflection of what I want to hear and what the three of us want to hear. Regardless of the kind of music, I think that’s when music is best. It’s when whoever is making it, is making something that they would legitimately would want to sit down and listen to on their own. It’s not this attempt to make something for anyone else. If you’re doing it for yourself, you also have to be aware of the fact that you can’t let your own idiosyncrasies totally take over. If you really love cyber-grind, you have to recognize that maybe 9 other people like it. You have to find the balance. You find ways to bring those elements in. The most unappealing idea as a musician is the idea of releasing an album that I wouldn’t want to listen to as a fan. That would defeat the whole purpose of why I do this in the first place.
Absolutely, and I think that you guys blend it so seamlessly. Each song is unique and they manage to flow like water. I found it great that ‘Monolithos’ opens the record and gets straight to the point. There’s no atmospheric introduction. Was the goal to bombard listeners from the start?
Thank you for saying that because, yes, we do have all these musical elements, but it’s sometimes scary to wonder if it all comes across as a real organic blend or if it sounds like we just put a bunch of parts into a blender and dumped them out onto the record. It’s very satisfying to know that it comes across in a cohesive manner for people who listen to it.
We recorded with Dave Otero and I love working with Dave Otero. He’s done every Khemmis album and he’ll do all the Glacial Tomb stuff as long as he’s willing to work with us. I love working with him because he makes stuff sound good, has an ear for how things can be better in a given song, and can help with structuring for an album. We weren’t entirely sure how we wanted the album to flow. He heard the pre-production demos and as soon as Mike got done tracking drums, he was like, “So, I’m just a producer but this is how I see the album flowing.” I think we swapped Sunless Dawn and Witness from his initial proposed tracklist. In his reasoning for opening with Monolithos, he said, “It is your most immediate song, it just comes right in. The vocals come in right after the riff goes through one time, it’s right there. This is what you want to do with the more extreme stuff.”
God, how many death metal albums came out last Friday (October 26)? It was a death metal palooza. There was like 30 death metal albums from bands that people know of, not to mention how many underground demos and tapes came out. If you’re trying to get people to pay attention for more than 10-15 seconds, I think you have to be immediate with that album opener and then give yourself a little time to explore as the album progresses. How many times have you heard a new album and you start on the first track because you assume they’re going to open with one of the best songs? 30 seconds in and you’re like “fuck this I don’t care.” I’ve had that happen so many times. Don’t give me your least impressive song upfront. Give me something that’s going to keep my attention and make me want to listen through to song 4, 5, or 6. That was definitely the intention with opening with Monolithos. When I listen to it, I get so pumped. That drum fill comes right in with the blast beat pattern with the double bass. That’s what I want more of. I want more albums that kick my ass from the start and then let me take a breath later on.
Of course! When I tuned into the record on my way to work that Friday morning, boom. Heavy shit from the start. ‘Monolithos’ just killed me.
Awesome! That’s good to hear.
I’m a very big fan of cover art and the creative process behind that, so how was it like working with Nanda Dika of Violence Art to create such an apocalyptic cover? It reminds me in a way of the Kingdom Hearts video game series with the keyholes on the tree people.
Oh yeah, I kind of know of it. I never played it but I’m vaguely aware of it.
But yeah, it was great man. When we first started this project, we wanted to work with a different set of artists across the board from what we’ve done with Khemmis. One, we have a particular aesthetic with that band but I also wanted to be able to explore the weirder more extreme kind of stuff that I love, not necessarily the cliched death metal kind of art. A friend of mine put me in touch with Nanda and he did the cover for our EP (Cognitive Erosion). He’s done a couple shirts for us, so we knew we liked his style but his stuff had always been in the normal death metal range. There was lots of skulls, lots of blood, that kind of thing. We wanted to give him an idea of the feel without telling him what we wanted to see because I think that’s where art gets really interesting, when people that operate with different mediums give each other the space to interpret one another’s art and have that be reflected in what they create.
I was talking to Nanda and he was asking what we were thinking and I basically said that I wanted it to be unsettling. I wanted it to be scary without seeming like a lame horror movie kind of thing. The point of reference I gave him was the Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński. He always drew very unsettling things. There’s one where there’s this large ghostly kind of figure wearing what appears to be a suit, standing in front of maybe a pulpit as a horde of small decaying creature things are swarming around the base. There’s one of this giant sort of spaceship thing that appears to be made out of humans floating through the sky and it’s not grotesque in a Cannibal Corpse kind of way. It’s grotesque in the stuff of nightmares kind of way. So we told him that we wanted something that had that feeling of hopelessness, disgust, existential dread, and fear without relying on cliched imagery. We didn’t need another album with Jesus on an upside down cross or a bunch of dead bodies. I want it to be something that makes people feel weird and makes people have bad dreams. He then sent us the first sketch of it and we were blown away.
He’s from Indonesia and speaks English, but it’s not his first language, so I don’t know to what extent the language barrier actually made the art even cooler and weirder. I wasn’t even thinking about it, I was just going off on a tangent. He was just like, ‘Cool, sounds good dude.’ That was his whole response to my long email. He then sent us this insane monolith with a portal of blood fueling it and these nightmare tree people. I don’t know where this came from or what kind of nightmares he’s been having, but it was awesome. He crushed it. We’re very honored to have an artist who seems to share a creative vision with us. Look for more stuff in the future featuring his art because that dude just killed it.
You have such a heavy array of labelmates at Gilead with Portrayal of Guilt, False, Inexorum, to name a few. What’s it like working with Adam at Gilead Media?
You know, it’s great. I’m a huge fan of the super small one person labels. I know that it’s a nightmare for them logistically because it’s literally what keeps food on their table. Adam runs a record store too, which I guess is because he hates himself so much. He just has to make it that much more difficult, but he’s great. He’s part of a really interesting group of small labels. You think about stuff like 20 Buck Spin, Profound Lore, these small but respected labels that put out what they want to put out. They’ve released some stuff that does well, but that’s not why they do it. They put out what they want to put out. So when Adam expressed interest in releasing this album, we were very excited. As you pointed out, his roster is really cool and it’s really varied. I really like that. He’s released a lot of the Thou albums, False, Mutilation Rites, so it covers this wide array of stuff.
I think one of the things that stands out to me is that there’s an honestness to that kind of music. These smaller labels aren’t making millions of dollars so they have to be intentional about what they release and the timing in which they release it. These bands also have to be genuine and intentional about the kind of music that they create and how they put themselves into their art. It certainly means alot to be counted among people who’s entire bodies of work stands tall in the underground and to be listed alongside them is quite flattering.
You’re playing a show this weekend with Power Trip, with the record release show coming up early next month in Denver. Are you excited to play the new tracks live?
We played a couple of them on tour this summer while we were on the road with Immortal Bird. We were sort of working out the kinks in those songs at that point, but we never played Monolithos and Shackled to the Burning Earth live, so I’m really excited. It’s a little nerve wracking for me just because of Shackled to the Burning Earth. It’s been fine during practice, hopefully its fine during the shows. The guitar and vocal patterns are not intuitive. When I wrote them and when Dave and I tweaked them in the studio, I was like, “Oh shit, how am I going to do this live?” But it’s been fine so far. I feel confident that it will be fine live. It’s also interesting because I’ve never played them live and then I get to debut them at bigger shows, which is very exciting. That’s the part that’s not nerve wracking at all. I love performing. Some people as musicians live for the studio. I like recording and I love having the album, but live is always it for me. We’re really excited to play those shows.
Connor is actually from Tucson originally, so this is a cool homecoming show for him to be able to go back. I know the Power Trip dudes a little bit. I’ve played some shows with them before and I’ve played that venue in Tucson. I could not possibly be more excited for the Denver show. We’re playing with some of my favorite people, some of my best friends in Call of the Void. They play sort of grindy, hardcore stuff. They have a new album that’s going to come out early next year that is just pissed off and tough. The opener for that show is this satanic bluegrass band called Saddle of Southern Darkness, which sounds like a weird opener for a grind band and whatever we are, but those guys are all metalheads and phenomenal musicians. It’s very technically proficient bluegrass, but all the songs basically have black and death metal lyrics. I love it. It’s just whisky drinking, hell raising bluegrass that’s all about the devil. We’re really fortunate to be part of this moment in the Denver scene where people are paying attention. Denver is now getting the recognition that I think it deserves. There are upper tier bands that have already sort of broken through but then there’s this burgeoning underground of bands that are about to be better known outside of Colorado. We’re really excited to be a part of this moment and really honored to be part of this scene with so many good bands. Denver supports. That show is going to be nuts. I’m really excited.
I see you’re also kicking off the new year with an upcoming Winter Tour. Are there any tracks that you feel will tear the place apart, cause mosh pits, and cause crazy shit?
Hopefully all of them, but I definitely feel that Monolithos is one that is going to go over really well. It has a lot of headbangable, run into the wall kind of parts. Hopefully, we’ll see some good circle pits on Breath of Pestilence with the d-beat parts. More than anything, we’d love to see people crammed in next to each other, banging their heads and just living in that moment. Were playing some nasty, ugly, extreme metal, but it’s also a sort of celebration of life in a way. Look at all the shit we managed to survive and then put into something productive and creative. However many people are there, whether it’s 2 or 20 or 200 people there, they’re in that moment with us. Drink that beer, drink that water, the La Croix or whatever else you want to drink, and just bang your fucking head.
I think that’s the beautiful thing. There’s all the darkness that came into writing the record and then there’s a group of people at the live show just celebrating and having the time of their lives headbanging.