Dissecting the talents that lie within the Grigoryev-illustrated 'The Cyclic Reckoning'.
For as harrowing and grim as the genre proves to be, black and death metal tends to present some of the most elegant and vastly detailed album covers, a lot of which harnesses from the Baroque, Renaissance, and Classicist art movements. Whether it be Benjaming Vierling, Dávid Glomba, Elijah Tamu, Denis Forkas, or one of today's subjects, Artem Grigoryev, the amount of talent present through the genre's catalogs is profound and each excels at their craft, depicting illustrations that add layers to the compositions embodied within. SUFFERING HOUR's forthcoming The Cyclic Reckoning is but one of those compositions for it delivers depth on an audiovisual end, urging one to revisit and dissect after each listen.
Arriving on February 19th via Profound Lore Records, The Cyclic Reckoning comes adorned by the stippling wonder of Artem Grigoryev, who presents the duality of Lucifer under a new perspective. SUFFERING HOUR are no stranger to grandiose artwork and they further deliver on that end with Timothy Grieco, Cold Poison, and Lucas Ruggieri joining the fold with additional pieces to accompany the multifaceted record. As high as we can regard it on the artistic end, The Cyclic Reckoning does more than look pretty. It's a maelstrom of sound that crashes upon the listener with tremolo picked melodies, intricate drum patterns, and all-around compositional variety that strays from linear sensibilities. Praise be to the Minnesota trio for crafting this canvas of blackened death metal reflection.
We go in-depth bassist/vocalist DgS (Dylan Haseltine) about the band's visual approach to The Cyclic Reckoning:
Four years from the exceptional debut that was ‘In Passing Ascension’ (2017) and you’re back with the next full-length chapter and Profound Lore debut, ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’, which amplifies your attention to detail and songcraft. Having hit a compositional achievement with 2019’s ‘Dwell’, where did you look to take ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’?
DgS: I think on this record, we wanted it to be a natural continuation of where we were going on 'Dwell'. Capitalizing on the “big”, melodic aspects and really making an emotionally heavy album. YhA (Josh) does almost all the songwriting and riff writing itself so that side of the question he would be able to answer better, but I can tell you about where I wanted to take things within my respective roles.
First and foremost for me might honestly be my production work on our releases. Mixing our material is an extremely important part of the creative process for me. It’s where I feel I can really shape the vibe of the material and push the entirety of the sound in the direction I envisioned. On this album, I wanted a bit cleaner, brighter sound than on 'In Passing' with more emphasis, punch and clarity on IsN’s (Jason’s) phenomenal drum parts. We also of course then went for a crazy, fucked up guitar sound this time around. Lyrically, I definitely went in a more somber direction coinciding with the music itself, focusing a little more on elements of deep self reflection and personal awakening and enlightenment. Vocally, I just tried to be as dynamic and commanding as possible, with more emphasis on mid-range stuff. I purposely wanted them more present in the mix on this one. I also pushed myself to get a lot more creative with my bass parts.
You've definitely done that. Though it’s a one-song EP, ‘Dwell’ is a testament to the talent lying within your ranks and serves as a great gateway to ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’. Jason’s drum work is elite while you and Josh excel in your respective parts with guitars and bass complementing one another nicely. The closing solo is also a beautiful touch. How much of this is a result of the camaraderie and respect that you all have between each other as a band?
DgS: Yeah definitely a massive result of camaraderie. 'Dwell' was kind of a turning point for us. We were a lot more comfortable with where we were as a band, we had been playing a lot of shows together by then and we knew our way through the whole process. Me and Jason really started going above and beyond, adding our own touches to Josh's compositions, which is something we’ve expanded upon even more on 'Cyclic' and will continue to do exponentially on future releases. Even though we've been playing together for almost 10 years now, we are still constantly finding new ways to collaborate and gel together as a band.
Jumping into ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’, the sonic influences just shine and speak to the you’ve all been exposed to. From ‘Strongholds of Awakening’ to the monstrous closer of ‘The Foundations Of Servitude’, the record is far from conventional, benefitting from a diverse song structure and layers of influences as mentioned, which one could definitely as Mgła and Dead Congregation among others. Would you say that the goal is to stray from your conventional constructs of the genre?
DgS: Definitely. We’re always striving to be different and better than everyone else. We all take elements of things we like from stuff we hear, metal and non metal and use them to craft our own unique brand of music. We want to be constantly pushing the boundaries of the genre and the limits of our creative capabilities. We simply want to sound like Suffering Hour and no one else.
As you should! Let's get to the arts. ‘In Passing Ascension’ came complemented by the art of Witchrist's Alexander Brown, who captured the beautiful malevolence present throughout the record. When approaching the visual ends of your music, what, if anything, do you look for in an artist? Perhaps a specific style or approach to an interpretation of concepts and themes?
DgS: First and foremost, talent. Very strong, and distinct artistry with a solid and uniform aesthetic. Alex Brown is an absolute monster of the stippling and grayscale. His illustration style was exactly the type of thing I was visioning for that record. Everything he does is so mind boggling and he never skimps on a single ounce of detail. Around that time he was doing art for so many releases we were into and bands that were on the same wavelength sound and concept wise, I knew we had to have him do our debut cover.
You transitioned from Brown to Cold Poison and now Artem Grigoryev for ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’, who like Brown, captures the elegance that is present throughout an otherwise aggressive outing. What inspired going with Artem for the sophomore LP?
DgS: I think I was first introduced to Artem's work from the Sinmara- Within The Weaves of Infinity (2017) cover. Upon looking into more of his work I realized he was an exceptionally incredible artist and someone I really wanted to work with. His art immediately reminded me of Gustave Doré. There was just something about that romanticism art style I felt was going to perfectly suit the more somber, melodic elements of 'The Cyclic Reckoning' as opposed to Brown’s more cosmic looking stuff that suited 'In Passing' so well.
Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Artem for the project?
DgS: When I originally approached him, I told him I was envisioning something based around a man/figure being consumed or stuck in a “vortex“ of the revolving cycle of earth. Something along the lines of a wall or chains being broken with some sort of illumination from above that I referenced in the lyrics to “Strongholds of Awakening”. I was very open though to his own interpretations and basically told him to formulate his own ideas however he saw fit. He then came back with the lightbringer idea and explained his influence by Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog”.
You can definitely see influence. The cover painting itself, which Artem titled as ‘Светоносный’ or ‘Lightbringer’, makes immaculate use of black and white textures. Seeing as the painting was completed last summer, do you feel that it influenced the making of ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ in any way?
DgS: No, the album was actually completed- minus the mastering by that point so there wasn't really any influence in that way.
One could dissect circles around the paradox of the ‘Lightbringer’ figure, which of course translates to Lucifer in classical mythology. Thematically, ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ explores a sense of awakening amidst a sombre and overwhelming mental anguish, again touching on that duality that is presented by Lucifer's bearing of light, despite being identified as an evil icon. Where do you feel that your conceptual approach to the record becomes one with Artem’s cover?
DgS: I definitely let Artem run in his own direction with the piece but what you said there is the best connection I’ve heard. That's dead on to me. The Lightbringer figure is also a great representation of overcoming mental barriers and pushing through the mundane reality of existence, seeking new revelations. My lyrics really don’t deal with mythology at all but I feel Artem’s piece really gives the whole thing a story and sets the scene. I think it works really well and I’m very happy with the result.
Logo design is often overlooked but yours continues to be one of the most intricately designed. Like with ‘In Passing Ascension’, ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ features it front and center, making it one with Artem’s artwork. How did you come about making this layout decision? Is it something you see as a constant moving forward?
DgS: We’ve always been pretty adamant about having the logo on the cover of our records as it’s such an old school thing to do. I think that was just how Alex Brown ended up laying out the 'In Passing' cover for us, then when Artem presented us the finished piece in that circular shape we realized we could lay it out that same way. So it was actually kind of coincidental, but we definitely may continue to lay out every album in that fashion. Like how the band Coroner had that strip with their emblem and title on all of their records, I always dug that. It was really signature and uniform.
It works very well. For those unaware, the physical release includes additional art by the likes of Cold Poison, Timothy Grieco, and Lucas Ruggieri, each of whom is profoundly talented. Given the vast material that each artist has composed, what inspired the selections that you’re all using for the record, given that these weren't commissioned?
DgS: It was a different situation with each artist actually. I knew for this record I wanted there to be some additional art in the layout and the first person to come to mind was Grieco. Tim is such a unique artist in every way, visually and musically. He blends the line between the audial and visual in such a hallucinatory way. So naturally, we contacted him and he presented us with an amazing portfolio of pieces, which we ultimately decided on the two that we liked the most. There was something unexplainable that I connected to with the pieces we chose and they just felt fitting. I'm very stoked to have his art represented.
With Cold Poison, we approached him to do a shirt design along with the torch for this record. We decided for every record to have a different artist design us a torch emblem to coincide with the release.
Then Lucas Ruggieri’s piece happened to be one he was selling that immediately caught my eye and looked killer. I’m not actually sure what his original concept was behind that one but I felt it represents some common themes throughout the record and ties into us a lot with the hourglass. I think it can be up to anyone’s imagination for interpretation.
Brilliant art choices to an already fantastic musical package. As you know, many come to discover music through the arts, whether that be at a local record store or while browsing a Spotify library. Mandatory question for us here at Heaviest of Art. Do you recall a time when an album cover struck you from the beginning and made you pick up a record prior to even listening to it?
DgS: I’m struggling to think of a specific example where I actually bought something completely blindly, but seeing cover art alone has made me give a listen to so many countless records. More so when I was young, but I admit I still every once in a while will check something out based on the art alone. As a kid if I saw anything with Ed Repka art, I immediately would check it out and usually ended up digging it. One of the first death metal albums I ever bought was Death's "Spiritual Healing" (1990).
I remember at one point black covers with really minimal graphics on them always lured me in. First Bathory album (1984), Candlemass- Epicus (1986), Blasphemy- Fallen Angel of Doom (1990). I remember seeing the Don't Break The Oath (1984) album cover and immediately knowing it ruled before ever hearing Mercyful Fate. I could keep listing examples for hours...
Great choices here, Dylan! In closing, it’s a great time for black and death metal alike with ‘The Cyclic Reckoning’ standing as a modern marvel of how the genre has evolved. Congratulations on a fantastic record!
DgS: Thanks man! Thanks for doing an interesting interview. Art and aesthetics are such an important element in music to me and I appreciate you highlighting upon it. Cheers!
The Cyclic Reckoning arrives on February 19th via Profound Lore Records. Get it HERE.