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Shadow And Myth: Ten Years of Cormorant's ‘Earth Diver’

Updated: May 19

Musings on folklore, the depths of legacy, and an avian album of musical mastery.

cormorant interview, cormorant earth diver.
Promo Photo Courtesy of Bandcamp

Words by Jake Sanders (@themetalscholar):

Having entrenched ourselves within the boundaries of the extreme music scene, we've come to an intimate understanding of many of the large name groups, amidst a litany of publications dedicated to analyzing, critiquing, and dissecting the longest burning stars in our corner of the landscape.

However, the brightest seldom burn long, and we as journalists are forced to contend with an existence that can be captured in the life span of a decade, or less. Though we were fortunate to receive twelve glorious years with the Bay Area progressive cartographers known as CORMORANT, their collected work was a cornucopia of the most cleverly constructed tracks known to the genre.

Wildly misunderstood, and highly underrated, Brennan Kunkel, Nick Cohon, Matt Solis, Arthur Von Nagel — and later, Marcus Luscombe — comprised a quartet of Olympian level writers who tackled major benchmarks of history, the annals of macabre folklore, mass genocides, arcane documentaries, and the sociopolitical landscapes that shaped the world. Their third LP, Earth Diver, is a collection of darker topics that explore the nature of faith, the intricacies of fear, hatred, and the capacity of humans to find the outer boundaries of our mortal coil.

A short time ago, we sat down for a digital meeting of minds with guitarist and vocalist Matt Solis, a driving force of the group since their debut LP. The results were off the wall, enlightening, and they begin now.


Jake Sanders: Right off the top, Sam Ford's iconic cover of this album is a huge draw for the eyes. Subtle elements of asymmetry come into play with this seemingly avian creature of rot, wings slightly spread and tucked, meaning we haven't seen its full wingspan unfurled. It's got a strangely insectoid facial structure, with pincers for a beak. Shades of gore red surrounded by a feast of foliage greens comprise its center, with a spew of parasitic slivers being thrown upwards as orange spheres dance the edges of the cover as a border to separate crests. Was there direction given to Sam on how this piece came about? Or was this just an abstract synesthetic creation of hearing the music?

Matt Solis: Once we knew the album was going to be called ‘Earth Diver’ — which is a creation myth, I can't remember what society had this myth, [note: Iroquoian, Allegheny, and Northern Susquehanna] but it was Native American — basically, the concept is a cosmic bird created the Earth by diving into the ocean and scooping up all this ‘life’, for lack of a better word, in its beak, and vomiting it out onto the Earth, and that became what we know as Earth. So ... Earth Diver.

I thought that was so cool, conceptually, particularly with the bird themes. Obviously, with Cormorant being the name of the band. We were like, "we haven't done a bird themed album yet," so once we landed on the Earth Diver concept, we were looking at some photographs. The previous two albums were heavily artistic, in terms of their presentation.

With Metazoa, Julie Dillon did this crazy artwork that took her so many months of back and forth with us. Alice Duke, on Dwellings — that cover is ridiculous! It's a three-panel epic painting that she did for us. Again, a lot of back and forth. Initially we were like, "how do you top Dwellings? Maybe a photograph is the way to go."

Canvas art of ‘Earth Diver’, painted by Sam Ford

We found this guy, a photographer — Nick Brandt, I think — but he had these amazing photos of these desiccated bird corpses, that he had found, washed up on the beach. They were these really striking black and white photographs, and I forget how I stumbled upon him, but I e-mailed him and he said, "thanks for the interest, but unfortunately I don't license my photographs for commercial use." He didn't want to sell it to us to use for the album. We were like "Ah, fuck. Well, we still like that desiccated bird concept," so once we decided we'd do another painting, or artwork, rather than a photograph, Sam came across our radar.

We had played with his band Wizard Rifle before, and I don't recall how we ended up going with him, but when he ended up being the guy, we explained this whole Earth Diver concept to him, gave him some reference photos of the bird photos that we saw, and pretty much just let him rip. We also sent him the lyrics for the songs; if you look at the paintings, there are lyrical references throughout. On ‘The Pythia’, there's a scene of some worship happening, that's supposed to be people worshipping The Pythia, from the song. Sort of like Dwellings, in that way. Dwellings was a lot more overt with the lyrical references. So yeah, we gave him the lyrics and the concept, and let him go.

I don't recall too much back and forth, because unlike the previous two, this one is an actual paining. Nick has the painting. I found the photo of it — it's like a gigantic canvas painting. We couldn't be like "go back and change this," because he had already painted it, right? He had sent us conceptual drawings before he sent us the finished product. so we knew what we were getting. we gave him a lot of artistic freedom to do what he wanted. We loved it, the second we saw it. It was so gnarly, and gross-looking, but also kind of beautiful. All the reds, and greens, and we loved the color scheme of it. Nick ended up buying the painting off of him, so he has it in his house in New Mexico somewhere.

That is too cool, man. I've thought about offering for it, once or twice, when the disposable income came around. God — I'm jealous, though.

Arthur (Von Nagel) has been quoted in the past as saying that Cormorant auditioned so many guitarists for the secondary position in the group, but the problem was that none of them really "got it", so to speak. Whether it was their particular playstyle, or simply didn't sonically fit into the equation, they were looking for a specific person to round out this group, and stumbled into you at an Enslaved show. Why do you feel that you "got it?" What kind of project did Cormorant look like to you, as an outsider coming into it?

Rough cover art of ‘Earth Diver’, by Sam Ford

Yeah, I remember meeting those guys at the Enslaved show. They were passing out CD-R demos of ‘The Last Tree’, that first EP. I was with my friend Luke, and him and Nick (Cohon) knew each other from when they were kids, so they noticed one another at the show, and started talking. I got the demo CD from them just because they were talking to each other. I was really impressed.

That was back in the Myspace days, so I remember going onto their Myspace profile and they had just recorded the actual version of ‘Last Tree’, so ‘Ballad of the Beast’ was on there, and ‘A Dance of Elk Entwined’. I was like, "this is kind of sick. It reminds me of Agalloch, the early stuff." Back when they were a three-piece? They sort of had that Agalloch-flavor to it. I had just come out of this band I was playing with. I was playing bass in a power metal band called In Virtue. Do you know Trey Xavier, from Gear Gods?

I don't think I do, actually.

He's a big YouTube guy, now. He has this Gear Gods channel.

I need to check that out — everyone keeps telling me I'm missing a big part of YouTube in that.

It was his band, though. I knew him in college, randomly. He's like this big YouTuber now. I was playing bass for that band, and I was like "I kinda wanna get back into playing guitar. That's my main instrument," or at least, it was in those days. It's switched these days. Heh. I got the EP, and I listened to it, thought they were cool. Then they put a Craigslist ad. I just happened to be scrolling through the musicians wanted ads in the Bay Area, because I was looking to join a band of some kind, on guitar. I was like, "I know those guys! I just got their CD!" So I messaged Arthur, and ended up jamming with them.

One thing that was a thread throughout our thing, was this open style of jamming together. If you listen to the finished product, you might not be like, "this is the product of a jam band." Maybe on some tracks, like ‘Hole in the Sea’, on Metazoa, and ‘Migration’, on Diaspora. That has like a really long middle section that is improvisational. But that's what struck me about those guys. My audition wasn't like "learn this song, and come in and play it with us." It was "come in and jam, and we'll see how we click together."

Playing music with people is an interesting thing. It's sort of alchemical, in a way. You can get by if you're a good player, and don't have a lot of soul in your playing, but personally, I feel that to get to the next level of making interesting music, you have to really connect with the players you're with. It's sort of an intangible thing. It's hard to explain, but when it clicks — there's this feeling in the room, that you're like "we're really on to something. Even if we don't end up using this passage that we're jamming on, this feels really nice." I felt that with those guys, right away.

(video: Andrew Solis tracking keyboards on ‘Waking Sleep’ during Earth Diver recording, courtesy of Matt Solis)

They were very ambitious at that time. Arthur was all over the internet on Board 235, on GameFAQs. He was like this message board king, and all these guys were wanting to hear the next Cormorant stuff. They had all these plans, and I was in my early twenties, and I was like, "this sounds like something I want to be a part of."

I think I played with them twice, before they asked me to join. That was back when we were all playing in Nick (Cohon), and Brennan's (Kunkel) house. They built this studio that was part of a spare bedroom in their house. Like — a shitty crash pad that like seven people were living in. They stole a bunch of soundproofing equipment from the back of a dumpster, in some studio in San Francisco. It had soundproofing, and they made this glass soundproof door. So, we would just play there. We probably played like four, or five days a week back in those days. Really playing a lot, and that's kind of how Metazoa was written, with that style of constantly jamming with each other.

I feel that's what attracted me to them, in the first place, and vice versa. I think they recognized it was a good fit, just feeling-wise, and playing-wise.

I like that about y'all. A lot of the time you see bands that you can tell they're there for a job. They found some dudes who needed the opportunity to get something that was like them. I don't feel that with you guys. It's very Beatles-esque. That Revolver era of "we're all sort of competing against one another, but it's in good nature, and fun, and I'm with my buddies."

Yeah, and not to jump ahead — but that's a big part of why the band ended. Everybody kind of gravitated away from the Bay area, and we tried to make it work remotely. We played Northwest Terror Fest, when two of us were living outside the Bay area, and we got together, and practiced, and did the show, but it didn't feel the same. It wasn't as organically exciting as four people on the same wavelength, living together, writing together.

I'd always wondered, but it was one of those things, where I'd be like, "no, I'm going to be grateful for what I have here."

Trakworx Mastering & Recording Studios, photo courtesy of Matt Solis

Everyone always asks the "who are your influences" question — it bores the hell out of me. For a group like yours, who is a child of two separate worlds, it's fascinating to view the panorama of groups who have had a hand in spiritually-crafting through your discography. Whether it's the classics, Agalloch, Ludicra, or Slough Feg, the proof is in the pudding that you guys love your genre pioneers, and experimental artists. But what albums channel Cormorant's spirit, to you? Were there certain LPs that hand a bigger hand in your creative development?

Yeah, you're always kind of influenced by stuff as a musician whether you know it or not. We got to a point at the end, where we just kind of knew what to do, who Cormorant was. We weren't listening to certain stuff, and saying "we've gotta do this, because of this," but at the beginning, for sure, there were some benchmarks we were reaching towards. I feel like Ludicra was a huge one, and not only because they were local. They were the local heroes, to us, but the last couple albums that they did in their career were just so monumental for us. The Tenant was huge! I remember listening to that constantly. I think that was after Metazoa, and before Dwellings, so that was still early days.

I would say Opeth was a big one for us. Particularly Blackwater Park, mid era Opeth. Still Life, sort of. The compositions they would do where they would play with movement. It was sort of classical, in the terms of having a theme that you open with, go to a certain other place, and then the theme comes back. You might not notice it on the first listen, but if you actively listen to that type of music, you can kind of see the path that they're on.

Anything that was story-driven was appealing to us, because Arthur's lyrics were so story-based. He was always weaving these tales, and took that very seriously, and spent a lot of time on it. So stuff that would sort of be narrative in its composition was very appealing to us. That's why we liked Slough Feg a lot. They had a lot of those weird, ridiculous Sci-Fi plots in their songs. We liked how certain passages in the music would change based on the change in the story, so that's something that we took from them, for sure. Particularly in songs like ‘Funambulist’ off Dwellings, the second track. I had watched the documentary MAN ON WIRE, the French wire-walker, Philippe Petit, who did the walk between the two towers, in the 70's, and I was really inspired by this, and Arthur wrote the lyrics and we changed the music based on the movement of the story. When he's about to get caught, and he's hiding from the police in the building, and the song kind of picks up in pace. Stuff like that we're really interested in.

I'm trying to remember super early; maybe like, In Flames? Jester Race style In Flames stuff. They were a trio before I came along, so when the two guitars are in there, you're like, "okay, let's do some Iron Maiden type melodies." This was like late 2009, 2010, so In Flames were still kind of novel. Their styles were that kind of swinging guitar melodies. We were very into that. It was so much stuff, and non-metal stuff. Nick, particularly — you would never know he's a metal guy. He's a really accomplished bluegrass player, an amazing fiddle, and banjo player. That's pretty much all he would listen to, like John Prine, Dixie Chicks, so he would bring in that style.

That's why it sounds so mish-mashy to some people. That's one of the knocks against Cormorant. It was like "pick a fuckin' genre."


Rough cover art with additional detail, by Sam Ford

*laughs* I don't know — we were just writing stuff that felt exciting to us, and ferried like a narrative throughline.

People bug me when they try to tell you to pick a genre. I'm just like, "do you really like vanilla that much?" You've gotta have some flavor in that shit. The Mantle is fun because they were like, "who cares? Just keep throwing stuff at it, and we'll see what sticks."

I think we ran into some issues with that in terms of taking the band to the next level, I feel like. We had a few times where labels were like, "Uhh, this is cool — but I don't know how we would possibly sell this." I don't know, I feel like it's a little different nowadays, but in those days we were kind of writ against some people who were just not getting it.

That feels lazy. They gotta know how to market something a little bit smarter than that.

So many fans think their band has excellent lyrics, but I think with Cormorant it's an objective acknowledgement. Not only did Arthur manage to masterfully link lyrics in Iabmic pentameter, but Marcus (Luscombe) respectfully continued the trend with you all by helping write some clever as hell words that are steeped into your instrumentals like a glove. Did the dynamic change at all when Marcus jumped on? How did that come about to being y'all's "smart lyrics style?"

Yeah, for sure. Arthur leaving the band was a pretty big thing. All four of us had a specific thing together, so when you remove one of those people from the thing — it becomes "oh shit."

That whole story... I don't know how much has been talked about it. He pretty much decided he didn't wanna — look, being a musician is weird — especially at a certain age, when you're sort of looking towards the future, and wanting to make money, and not be in a van for nine months out of the year. Some people just look at it, and they're like "I think I'm good." Ultimately he was like, "I don't think I want to do this anymore." He gave us plenty of notice, and we did that tour with Primordial in 2012. That was his last thing he did with us, pretty much. We knew it was going to be a pain in the ass to replace him. Not only was he a great player, he was the bassist, and the vocalist, and the lyricist, and he would be the one who would do all the interviews, and press. Nick, Brennan, and I were like "this sucks, but we're going to have to step up and continue this, because we don't want to stop." There was never a moment where we were like — that's it, it's done.

No Led Zeppelin, huh?

Yeah. It was a shtity feeling that we had to replace Arthur, but this happens in bands. We found Marcus fairly easily — again... Craiglist. We knew a bunch of players as well, but we kind of wanted to open it up. So we put on Craigslist similar to who we are, looking for a player who needs to be able to do, ideally, bass and vocals. We were like, "we could get one bass player, and then get a vocalist, or I could take over more vocals," which I ended up doing, but Marcus gave us the best of both worlds.

Brennan Kunkel at the kit, photo courtesy of Matt Solis

I had sort of known Marcus from before. He was in the Sonoma county scene, in this band Vengince, so I was peripherally aware of him. He was friends with a bunch of people who we knew, so when he came in it wasn't like some random weirdo. This guy can play, and he was new to the bass when he joined. He was primarily a guitar player, but he was so excited he went out and bought this beautiful five-string bass. He spent like 900$ on a bass! But he was really into it. He was looking for something more permanent, and progressive. He was in this progressive band called Cloakwheel, that had broken up. It sort of fit perfectly.

The lyrics, we knew, were gonna be a big problem. Those lyrics are undeniably pretty great; not to toot our own horn, or whatever. In terms of the pantheon of what metal lyrics are kind of like — not all of them, obviously — he's just a really good writer, and that's something that a lot of people identified us with, that maybe weren't super into metal, or the style of metal we played. They were still super into the lyrics, because he would write from a historical perspective, a lot of times. ‘Blood on the Cornfields’ from Metazoa was about this slave uprising that happened in the 1800's, and a bunch of songs off Dwellings were historically-based. So, we knew it was going to be challenging to replace that, and Marcus and I tag-teamed lyrics from that point on.

I'm a writer, too. That's what I do for a living, and Marcus wrote lyrics for his other band, so we knew we could do it. I was like, "two heads were better than one, in this instance. I'll take four songs, and Marcus — you take three." We knew we wanted to continue the narrative style of the lyrics, the same type of story-telling, because that was a big part of the band. It would've been weird if we had went into this whole new style of metaphorical lyrics about human existence, or whatever. We knew it had to be story-based, still.

Being around Arthur for that long, and seeing how he wrote informed the style that we would write in. We knew we would have to build story, and build narrative based around the musical movement. It was a lot of hard work, but it was cool, because it was something I had never really done before then. Sitting down and trying to craft the story lyrically. I think it came out pretty good, but the lyrics on Earth Diver, and Diaspora are obviously different than Arthur's, but they still have the same kind of DNA. It's all just story-telling.

‘Pretty good’ is the understatement of the fuckin' century, man. Okay — *acts out instrumentals while vocalizing*

 "words of elders ring in his mind; "hair of a maiden, skin of a basilisk."


Thanks. That's ‘Daughter of Void’, right?

Yes indeed.

It was also fun to think about the themes of each song. It was always like, "what am I gonna write about for this one?" We would always write music first. That's always kind of how Cormorant happened, and once the song was done musically, we had to figure out where the lyrics go, or where the vocals go. In that one I remember — Earth Diver had this theme of myth, so if you listen to the opening track, ‘Eris’, we had a lot of samples going on.

Earth Diver poster, design by Sam Ford

"Man has always lived in the myth." That's Freud talking, and there's this whole concept of man's relationship with mythology, and where does that line blur from reality, and the trouble you can get within that, and these myths that we build for ourselves.

Conceptually it was very exciting. That one was based on this myth I found in Alaskan culture, about this thing called the ‘Qallupilluit’.

It's a cautionary tale they would tell children to make sure they didn't get close to the ice, because in Alaska you'd just fall into the fuckin' ice, and die, and no one would know you were out there. So in order to make sure their stupid kids wouldn't fall into the ice, they would be like, "you better not go onto the ice — the Qallupilluit is gonna getcha!" It's like a boogeyman, basically. The whole story is about that perspective, and ultimately it doesn't end very well for the character in the song. That was pretty interesting to take something I had read about, and write lyrics to it.

That's a very juvenile thing for me; that was going to be a guess, actually. When I had looked up the mythology, I knew it wasn't a graphic novel, and it wasn't an actual novel that I could tell, it sounded like folklore. I told myself, "you should probably ask him if it's the Qallupilluit," then I immediately said "don't act stupid. That's not it." That's pretty dope, actually.

Yeah — we wanted to call it ‘Qallupilluit’, but we were like, "well... no one is gonna know how to say that fucking word."

They're gonna be pulling a Sanguisugabogg to you all day long.

We went with the more broad route on that one.

That's too cool. That last line in there:

"Merely adrift, more beast than myth," that shit will send shivers down your arm. It's so mean.

Thanks, yeah, yeah, yeah — I consider that our mean album! It's pointedly more fuckin' gnarly sounding than all the other ones. I think we were out to prove something on Earth Diver. We were full of fucking rage.

It was so mean! You're constructing these scenes of a French landscape of the last century. These soldiers sitting around Fort Detrick smoking cigarettes. Dude — you found a way to put ‘diethylamide’ into a five-syllable measure there! It's so tasty!

*laughs* That was Marcus. *repeats the measure out-loud in tempo*

SOOOO good. It makes me happy to hear it. I have to repeat to people, "I'm gonna show you a magic trick. Watch how you can cram any word into this measure!"

I remember having to do the background vocals on that part, and I remember trying to wrap my head around the word. "What is it? Die-ethyl-amide? Di-eth-yl-amide? Okay. Let's just try it a bunch of times at practice to get it right."

I bet that wasn't easy. Even when I do, I still have to be impressed again, and be like, "Didjaseewhathefuckingdid?!"

(video: drum tracking on ‘A Sovereign Act’, clip courtesy of Matt Solis)

Consistent stories come from your album's words, but those stories are so varied, and dynamic in scope and stage. Whether it's the photorealistic description of a polar landscape and its prevailing tribal presence, or the European political landscape of the last century, I can always tell when it's Cormorant drawing me a picture.

When I hear Broken Circle, I feel being ferried away on a psychedelic journey, surrounded by my closet family and friends. Does the audio landscape start with melody? Or are these stories decided by the words that set the tone?

It always starts with melody.

Like I said — we would always write this music first, and we would come upon parts that made us feel a certain way. So in ‘Broken Circle’ for sure, there's a couple moments that were so emotionally resonant that I knew whatever lyrics that went there had to be equally as resonant. So, particularly like the whole intro part where the blast beats kick in, and there's a guitar melody over the top where I'm screaming Neurosis-style.

I remember when we were writing that part, and I came up with that, *hums melody* I was like, "that kind of sounds like being sucked into some sort of next realm." It's triumphant, and kind of sad, at the same time. Ultimately I decided that that song would be about Native American ghost dance, which is not really a myth as much as a cultural tradition, a passage way into the next life, through this really rich tradition of ghost dancing.

The music came first, getting sucked into this sad but beautifully hopeful place, and it fit perfectly with being brought into the afterlife. So, they sort of work together, but the melody usually comes first, and if the melody is resonant enough and feels a certain way, then that will dictate the lyrics, because I'll know — you can't just put something incongruous here, word-wise — if it's feeling a certain way to use, and the lyrics are just about your fuckin' pet dog... *laughs* maybe that would work for some people, but to continue the storytelling style of the band, the feeling of the music would need to match those words.

To speak more about that picture you've painted, your chord progressions and patchwork pacing have always been something that the group excels at doing. It's always surprising, even after re-visiting it. ‘Waking Sleep’ is brilliantly disharmonic, with some gorgeous liquid chaos in the middle, and a full circle feeling of that bouncy closing. There's that emotional conveyance of a history closing sadly. Have y'all ever made concept art following the scenes of your songs?

No, but we always wanted to work with an animator. That's was a goal of ours, and we never got to. We never really explored music video stuff aside from one experience that was kind of... not good. *laughs*

We made a video for "The Purest Land" off Dwellings, that we ended up scrapping because it came out so bad. I think that was a missed opportunity to work with, because these concepts are so large, and the stories, a lot of times, are so involved — I think animation, or maybe even Claymation would've been really cool to see somebody's perspective of that narrative. The closest we ever got, I guess, would be the various album art covers, that always had some sort of tie to the lyrics.

Particularly Dwellings. Every single song is represented on Dwellings. If you sit and stare at the painting, and find the Clayman from ‘The First Man’, and the wire walkers on top of the tower, and all the soldiers from ‘Purest Land’ attacking the thing, so we were able to incorporate that type of vision into our album art, but that was always something we were like, "it would be cool to work with an animator to create a ten-minute short film," or something. Maybe one day someone will hit us up about it.

Cover art of ‘Dwellings’, by Alice Duke

That needs to be done. Y'all have the tone to be able to push across — not the way 1981's heavy metal did — but something stronger than that. They started The Planet of Doom a few years back, before pandemic. I haven't seen hide nor hair of it since.

So, artists that need a visual, that feel like they deserve it, are hard to come by. You want to see that for groups that tell stories, like yours, or even like... Horrendous. It feels like they imitate y'all in that way, sometimes. The musical representation of what you're hearing requires an almost Disney's Fantasia like scope to appreciate.

I agree. It's sort of — I don't want to use the word regret — but maybe if we would've been a little more focused on other things, we could've made that happen. But it's never too late, I guess.

Maybe that's something I'll look into now.

You never know, man. I think some things are worthwhile, and that's a crazy endeavor to chase that's worth it.

You guys spent quite a bit of time together, and were able to tour with Primordial, YOB, and see a bit of your corner of the world and others. Now that you're all looking back at that decade from the current one, can you see the progress you guys had in so little time?

Do you look back fondly on your time with the project, and can you proudly, objectively see your work?


When we stopped the band, it was a fucked up decision to make. To step away from something that is meaningful to everyone involved is a sacrifice, and a bittersweet thing. I think I wrote in the press release that we "felt we were disrespecting the band in the way we were going." Because we'd get together and do some shows here, or there. Send riffs to each other through the internet. Someone can work on a whole song, and maybe someone else can jump in — but that's never been the way Cormorant operated.

It was always the four of us in our rehearsal room, working on ideas together, being together, and it was really apparent at the end there, that the way it was setup was destined to fail.

We were like, "you know what? This band deserves more than what we're giving it right now." Nick had moved to New Mexico, I had moved to Portland. The other two were going through some life changes, as well. It got to the point where we just needed to step back.

That's why we left the door open. I see a lot of stuff, especially recently, bands that left the door open are sort of doing stuff again. Ludicra did that whole great run last year, and Giant Squid is back together right now for Terror Fest coming up.

Agalloch, Dawnbringer, 3 Inches of Blood... *laughs*

Exactly. As long as no one is so angry at each other about anything — which is never the case with us — I feel like I'll see those guys again, and we'll do something interesting, when the time is right for us. But yeah, looking back, that was such a great time in my life. It was being in a band, doing whatever the fuck we wanted, and people were responding to it.

Cover art of ‘Metazoa’, by Julie Dillon

Now, we had some issues with, every time we wanted to take the next step into say, signing a record deal, or going on tour with someone, it seemed like there was always something in the way of that. Particularly, we took a lot of pride in being DIY, and that was a big part of our identity, but it wasn't like we were always "no, we'll never sign a record deal, that's never gonna happen." We just didn't want to get fucking boned. Everything we ever saw was just like, "okay, we'll put your record out if you want to eat shit for ten years." We were like, "I don't think we will, actually."

I don't feel like we missed an opportunity there, but it is sort of a ‘what if’ situation. I feel like the band was positioned to do more, in a way. We were always active around the Bay area, and like you said, we did those tours. We went all the way to the East Coast and back with Primordial. That was awesome. We would always get big shows coming through San Francisco. We opened the Decibel magazine tour when they came through, and that was really great. We sort of built a life for ourselves in the Bay area, but I think the lack of being on a label hurt us, in terms of being able to say, go to Europe, which we would've all loved to do, or do more extensive touring, which some of us would've loved to do. Not so much Arthur — that's why he bailed.

I don't really live my life in terms of what ifs, or regrets. The band was at a certain place, and I feel like it could've gone to a different place if things would've maybe worked out a little better, in our favor. But — we also didn't sign terrible deals, or handcuff ourselves money-wise into some weird thing. We always did things on our own terms, which I'm proud of. We were able to build this fanbase of people all over the world who liked what we did, and wanted to directly support us. Every single album we put out had some sort of fan involvement!Earth Diver had a whole indiegogo campaign to raise money for the printing of that album, and it was totally successful. Dwellings was the same way! I think Diaspora, we ended up doing on our own, because we were financially fine at that point.

There's a lot of paths I can see, in the past, that Cormorant could've gone down. I look at a band like Wayfarer now, and I feel that Wayfarer is the exact type of career we should've had. They're touring Europe, they're on a label, they're doing their own thing. They have a specific kind of niche people like them for, and I think — in a different world — that's where we would've ended up. But we didn't — we ended up where we were.

Made some sick albums, played some cool places, and met some great people, so no complaints.

I usually look at the quality of what the work is, too. I see Wayfarer, and the way they're doing stuff, and all those guys have a Blood Incantation [style] adjacency. You see it slowly conglomerating. It's becoming something that is so commercial, and huge, and you want to love that, and cheer for it, and see how big it gets. It's good, and I can see it, but there's not a brushstroke behind it, I think, anymore.

The potency of what your work does all the way up to Disapora is just terrifyingly large. It's reinventing something, like Pallbearer. They reinvented doom in 2012 in the most subtle way possible, for me. Hell — they recorded at your studio! Magic comes out of that place, and I don't know what the fuck it is.

When you hear Orchid's Capricorn, or Foundations of Burden... your entire discography got setup at Trakworx. There's some places where they recognize art, and then there's places that make music money. The music money is fine to me — but I like looking at shit that should be hanging in the MET right now. Earth Diver, and subsequently your entire discography feels like something that can be folded out like the posters that you put inside the box. I really fuckin' like that. I like that it's bigger than life when you look at now, still. It'll hold up twenty years from now. That's a good kind of thing.

Cover art of ‘Diaspora’, by Jeff Christensen

I appreciate those words, and that's really all you can hope for as a musician.

Ultimately we wrote these songs because we thought they were cool, and we wanted to play music together. But to have them resonate on a different level with folks who we've never met is the craziest feeling. You interviewing me right now is wild because we haven't been a band in six years! Sometimes you wonder if people even remember, but I guess the internet is forever, right? I feel like good music will always find its way to people in a certain way.

I light a candle when I think about you guys, because when I have to show you off — it's proselytizing.

My friends know what Cormorant looks like because I hammer that shit home. A good music education is invaluable to any other art that it helps create. I listen to you guys while writing my manuscripts and it helps me do better. So, I think that sense of appreciation is what a lot of people need to latch onto as the important part of it.

You guys were fuuuuuckin' important. *grabs temples* To gush over it a little, that kind of shit is life-changing. I was still a fan in 2014 — not a journalist. Looking back at this stuff with me just ranting to my nearby people, Cormorant comes off as a violently important part of musical growth. You recognize what art is supposed to look like. It's not done for 10/10 reviews, or a seven-figure touring rider up front. It's not done for silly onesies that kids wear like Master of Puppets. You go back and look at Cormorant so that people can understand — you've gotta open a textbook for this.

You've done the same thing, honestly. When you look at some of these other projects you've built up, with Besotten — and more important to me, personally — URSA. It's a massive presence to me, fantasy lore wise. To see a spin-up of Wizard's Path is a once a day thing for me. Any news from either of those two projects? That they'll live and tour for years, and years, to come.

Well, URSA sort of died with Cormorant. I don't think it's been reflected on Metal-Archives that it's not a thing anymore.

I feel like if we wanted to URSA, it'd be a little easier to do without all of us in the same room. Not to say it's more generic music, or easier music. But it's more specific. It's traditional fantasy doom metal. That's what that project came about as. Nick, and Brennan were jamming. Nick had gotten like a new amp, or something, and he said "I sort of want to play some doom riffs, or something," and then Brennan was like "I'll play drums!" They would just jam at our studio, and by osmosis, I was like "I guess I'll come play bass." That just morphed into this thing.

Cormorant was so all-encompassing, and anything that we think is good goes into this. We'll refine it, and spend the time to craft into something listenable. URSA was like — "this needs to sound like Candlemass and DIO having a steel cage match against SLEEP."

It was very specific, and that's interesting to me. It's the same people involved in the band, but it's a totally different approach to music-writing, which is not what we did in Cormorant. That was really fun, and I would love to revisit URSA because I feel like I could write some URSA stuff just by myself and we could churn something out. But that's on hold, just like Cormorant.

Besotten — I joined those guys about a year ago, in October of 2022 maybe? Or maybe it was 2023. I don't know, my timing is all fucked. All that to say, I'm not playing with Besotten anymore. I played on their split release that just came out. So I guess it was 2023 *laughs*.

But I sort of left that band because I play in this band Drouth now, out of Portland. We just finished a new record, produced by Billy Anderson who did Metazoa, so full circle there. That's what I'm doing now! Playing bass in Drouth, and we have some stuff coming up, tour-wise. The album is going to come out soon, on Translation Loss. But yeah, that URSA stuff is a lot of fun.

Cover art of URSA's ‘Abyss Between the Stars’, by Jesse Swanson

URSA is special, dude. What people don't get is that it was something I had been looking for, for a long time — and you provided it in-house with Cormorant! What the fuck, man?! *laughs* Have you heard Andy Beresky's Black Pyramid?

That sounds familiar, but I don't believe I have.

They are the sludgiest fantasy doom metal band that you could ever listen to. They've got a new album coming out finally on May 3rd,  but if you ever go back and listen to Black Pyramid's Stormbringer; that's what URSA is and I've been itching for that for like a decade now. So to have that little piece that I got to take along with me, it was my consolation prize for Cormorant. It was sweet.

I'm writing that down. Black Pyramid. Writing that down.

I think you'll like whatcha hear. It tells the story of Elric of Melnibone, the fun doom, the Frank Frazetta-ness.

I love all that good shit. Crypt Sermon has a new one coming out too, and I love that band. Candlemass is — full stop — one of my favorite bands of all time. I was in a Candlemass tribute band for about five seconds when I first moved to Portland. So, anything that sounds like Candlemass, I'm gonna eat up like candy.

Crypt Sermon, I love. Magic Circle — I really like them. Any of that fantasy doom stuff.

Like I said, it was so different from Cormorant, but it was still Nick and Brennan, who I've been playing with for a decade, so we would just know how to write together, and the writing just went so much faster! It was more straightforward.

Not to say the riffs were easier, but the writing was because we had a specific goal in mind. Cormorant was always trying to wrestle stuff into a package. *pretends to jam things into small vessel* Cormant was like, just jam it down, cut off the end of it, saw that off so it fits into it, polish this off nice and smooth so it doesn't hurt anybody!

URSA was just like, "let's have fun."

You make it sound like — if you've played Elden Ring — Godrick the Grafted. There's these monstrous appendages that are growing off him that are beautiful and perfect in their own right.

I'm scared of Elden Ring. I will play it one day, but I'm scared of being sucked into a hundred hours of a game.

You should be afraid — it's a hundred and fifty hours of your life gone.

That's a lot.

My wife blinked into this room once while watching me play that; she said, "I don't know what you're doing, but I've never seen you make that face." I had to be like, "this is rage, and when I'm done... the task will be over."

Just dying over, and over again.

It'll humble you real fast.

I've got one really important important question for you:

If you couldn't be a musician anymore — what would you be? What would occupy your days, and your mind? You've all had day jobs, but were any of them something you could call a passion as much as music?

I've often thought about this, and I feel like music would always be involved in some way. The easy answer is writing about music, but I did that, and I do... do that. So that's not really different.

Cover art of ‘The Last Tree’, photograph by Johanna Kallin

Something that might be surprising to hear is I'm super into basketball. I'm a huge basketball fan. So, I often think it would be really cool to be a beat reporter for a basketball team, where you go to every single game and you write about the game, and it's on their website, or social media. You're the guy who's in the post-game press conference asking questions of the players, and writing about the game, and the upcoming playoffs. I think that'd be really amazing, because I love basketball, and I think I would be good at covering it.

So yeah, basketball.

I'm also a big fan of pro wrestling, so I always thought it would be cool to run a pro wrestling federation, or a company that puts on shows, or maybe at least work with a pro wrestling company to do marketing. That's what I do for a living, as my day job — marketing. So marketing for a wrestling company, or putting on live shows. Anything that is performance related, I'm really into.

Even if it's not something that I would specifically follow. I would be interested in running the same type of thing for like, a ballet company, or a theater, or something like that. Anything that has people being creative. I know from Cormorant being DIY, is there's so much shit that has to happen behind the art to get the art out to where it needs to be.

Yeah, I think that would be interesting to have some sort of job where you're running marketing for a performance company of some kind, whether it's wrestling, dance, or sports.

When I was young, I worked at a movie theater that was in the same parking lot as a professional, local wrestling circuit. I've never liked wrestling, mind you. It was never something that's been interesting to me  — I always thought it was silly, and fake.

But the promoter they had was this scrawny guy with a shaved head, except for this barely growing mohawk that he was clearly not attached to. He would run over and accost the people leaving the movies, and the mall. Every day I would shoo him away. But there was one day in particular, where he was like, "YOU WANNA WATCH A BUNCH OF DUDES SLAP THE SHIT OUT OF ONE ANOTHER? JUST FUCK EACH OTHER UP? YOU WANNA WATCH 'EM GET GREASY AND MESSED UP? GET OVER HERE!" He was having a bad day, and that day I said, "... I don't have anything else to do."

That was the best marketing I've ever had.

It's carnival shit, when it comes down to it. Wrestling is like the most Carnie shit there is. It's a live spectacle. I always laugh when people are like, "you know that's fake, right?" I'm like, "is it? Is it fake? Hold on a minute — I've gotta sit down."

Of course it's fuckin' fake. You know what's not fake? Getting thrown off a top rope through a bunch of tables onto a cement floor. All it is, is live stunt work, and the best part about wrestling is, they tell long-term stories.

Going back to what do we do; why is music interesting to me? Why is writing interesting? Why is art interesting?

Because it tells stories, and Humans are addicted to stories. It's what gets us through our shitty lives. Putting ourselves into a different situation that lives up here *points to head*, and you can go through this plot that someone is giving you, and project your own shit onto it, or maybe even lose yourself, and not think about your own shit for twenty minutes while this thing is going on. Wrestling might as well be music to me. It's a concerted effort to tell a story based on physical movement and a set artistic style.

So, anytime anyone says "that's fake," I'm gonna be like, "you're fake."

It's fake, but look how many seasons they've had of it! Look how many different running storylines there are. There's an emotional investment from my friends who like wrestling, and I can sort of understand why at this point. They've sold me on that fact it's better than a soap opera.

I get it — if you don't like it, fine. But don't disrespect it, know what I mean? It should hold the same respect on any artform, I feel like.

I've come around the bend on that one; even if it is a spectacle, I've seen the gathering of the juggalos. That shit is entertaining.

One of my great goals in life is to go to the gathering of the Juggalos. I'm not kidding. I don't care if I see a single band. I just want to go, and experience what they experience. Just be among the Juggalos. I think that would be fascinating, and not in an ironic way. I think it would be really cool.

They're a profoundly fascinating people, and not to mention — pretty accepting.

Who is more maligned and made fun of than a bunch of people who dress like clowns and listen to hip-hop? Everybody makes fun of Juggalos. Why would they throw stones when the stones are being thrown at them. I think the Juggalos are RAD, dude. I would love to go to the gathering. I would love to PLAY the gathering.

If anyone is reading this who books the gathering — I'll talk to my Drouth guys, and maybe we can play!

‘Earth Diver’ full-length concept art, by Sam Ford

Cormorant, while short-lived, is calcified in the permanence of their legacy.

While the rest of the genre stands on riffs, licks, and catchy lyrics, they took the path unlaid into the darkened woods. No task they've ever started has been left raw, tarnished, or unsculpted. With their composition and culture, they painted imagery across a canvas of worlds that most bands could never dream to touch.

Despite their lack of longevity, Cormorant conquered a battlefield of technical mastery that was miles above their competition. With sound, they outlined their theater of operation. With words, they gave it life, and senses. Tragically unappreciated by the industry at-large, Cormorant ultimately succumbed to an earlier inevitable fate than their peers, but what they left listeners around the world were tides of excellence that never once receded as they marched the shores of their domain.

Earth Diver is a darkened pillar within the shadowy corner of their catalogue, packed with rage and ambition. A time of uncertainty, a question of belief in one's own core concepts, and a will to create, unmitigated by personal loss, and unkind circumstances. With a slew of various brushes, Brennan, Marcus, Matt, and Nick took a bold stand on not sacrificing quality for punctuality, and in-turn built what I believe to be the magnum opus of their careers, and possibly one of the finest pieces of music birthed in 2014.

With some persistence, a little luck, and an uncompromising vision of their goal, Cormorant successfully redefined progressively extreme music a decade ago, and gave to the world an album poised for eternity.

When no one else could, Cormorant illustrated the meaning of ‘show — don't tell’, and the scene has never truly recovered from their fade into the aether. Today, we celebrate the ghost dancers, the heathen acolytes, the monsters in the deep, those bereft of life, those consumed by myth, and the Earth Diver itself.

Today, we hope that Cormorant will open the door once more.


On behalf of Heaviest of Art, we'd like to thank Matt for chatting with us about the band, the bird, and the beauty of their discography. Happy tenth anniversary to Earth Diver!

Cormorant is a completely independent project, and if you'd like to support their work and visit a masterful catalogue, check out their BANDCAMP today!

Finished Cover Art of "Earth Diver" by Sam Ford


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