Allegaeon – Growth and Evolution

Wednesday, 17th April 2019

Inching closer to the release date of their fifth album to date in Apoptosis, the road forwards for Allegaeon hasn’t always been the easiest one. A number of line-up changes and challenges in getting the band on some tours didn’t deter them, and in more recent years they’ve finally started to get some more well-deserved recognition. Apoptosis should only serve to increase this, with the band’s potent mixture of addictive riffs and melodies in a brutal melodeath package is at a fever pitch. As with previous releases, we grabbed guitarist Greg Burgess for another round of questions to discuss new bassist Brandon Michael, what Apoptosis does for the band, and why the band encourages side projects.

Dead Rhetoric: I talked with Scott Carstairs of Fallujah recently and he spoke highly about the European tour. What was it like from your perspective?

Greg Burgess: It was fun to hang out. I called him The Judge [laughs]. He judged everything and I thought it was hilarious. The last day of the tour, I put a chair in front of him and held up score cards. It was great!

It was humbling to go out with those bands because they were all great. It was kind of a weird experience because [of timing]. In London, when we played, down the street was Behemoth and At the Gates, and at the other end of the street was Psycroptic and Aversions Crown. We were a few days behind Soilwork and Amorphis – so there was a lot of competition with the tour. That being said, the tour was a huge success. You could tell people weren’t buying merch though, because there was so much going on.

Dead Rhetoric: How much of the title of Apoptosis relates to Allegaeon as a band?

Burgess: When organisms grow, sometimes their cells have to die. There’s a huge metaphor for us shredding through members like no one’s business. I’m terrified that everyone is going to think I’m the worst dude ever to work with [laughs]. So there’s that portion, and there’s the science angle that we always love. Lots of talk about cells – there’s also the song “Exothermic Chemical Combustion.” Again, the forest has to burn down before it can rejuvenate and grow again. There’s a lot of metaphor. I think we are making fun of ourselves a little bit, because we can’t keep members to save our lives [laughs]. And of course, the science aspect.

Dead Rhetoric: In the press release, it said that this time you guys were open to being less “Allegaeon-y.” What did that mean?

Burgess: I didn’t say that [laughs]! That’s coming from a very Michael Stancel position. Within that, I will say that within that he is really the hero of this record. I had lots of personal issues going on, starting even when we were in the studio for Proponent for Sentience. Things in my personal life kind of trailed off for the past two years. I wasn’t in a very good headspace for writing, creatively. Not that I have less songs on the album than normal, but I kind of feel like I let the band down, but Michael totally lifted the band up.

He comes from a different place – the guy could basically be my son with our age difference. He listens to a lot of pop music, synthwave, and real sad girl music – I think that is where the atmospheric stuff comes in. He listens to a lot of post-rock. Normally, I don’t think that stuff would take centerstage too much, but on this album I think it really did. Of course, when you are Michael’s age, you have a lot of aggression and you are really figuring your life out and I think that definitely showed in his music. He really evolved as a songwriter on this album. I actually kind of made fun of him, but not really, because “Parthenogenesis” was kind of my tribute to Michael because he is band mom and I am band dad. This is our baby, and it’s pretty much all him. That’s where that title came from.

Dead Rhetoric: What has new bassist Brandon Michael brought to this album?

Burgess: As great as Corey [Archuleta] was and he fit the role – he didn’t really stand out. He held the foundation up. That’s where he saw his role. Brandon Michael is a bit more well-rounded as a musician, and within that comes a different set of skills. He is a monster. When it came to writing his parts, there wasn’t a lot of “What’s the root? I’m just going to hold that.” It was, “Oh I can write a counter melody here or put some bass lead lines in this space.” He’s a bass player’s bass player, that might be the best way to say it.

A lot of times in metal you have a lot of guys that just follow the guitars, and sometimes that needs to happen. But a bass player’s role is to add the harmony and lock in with the drums. To make the music more interesting by holding down the harmonies, while you are adding your accompaniment, so to speak. Normally the bass and drums are the cake, and the guitars are the frosting. In Allegaeon it hasn’t been that way. The guitars have been the main thing. But now Brandon can come in and see what the guitars are doing, and make accompanying parts that add to them instead of just playing the exact same thing all the time, which is really great.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned “Parthenogenesis,” but what can you say about the instrumental tracks – I watched an interview where you mentioned that one near and dear to your heart got cut?

Burgess: [Laughs] There were two. There was a classical guitar solo that I was really proud of, and a Bach Concerto. I think we cut them to make the album flow better. When we turned in the track list for the record, we were recording the guitars. We were basing the tracklisting on the demos, and of course you flesh stuff out in the studio and add bells & whistles. When you sit with the tracks for a long time, it’s way easier to come up with an appropriate track order. But we were so slammed for time.

It felt like the whole album was a rush job, because we were under the gun to get it finished and go out for Summer Slaughter [2018]. We laid out a track list and asked if anyone had any problems with it and we thought it looked good. When we got it all done and we heard it, we didn’t know what was going on with the record. I love every song, but it wasn’t working. Riley [McShane] had an idea of switching a couple songs around, and he was very gentle with me – it was touching because he knew how hard I had worked on these [laughs]. He brought up taking those two off the album, and I was so frustrated at that point that I said anything that would make the record I was down with at that point. So we pulled them off, reordered it, and suddenly the album worked.

It broke my heart to take those tracks off, but at the same time, I think it served the album better. Unfortunately, with the lead time for vinyl, [laughs] people who get the vinyl will get all the tracks in the original track order. While they get more music, I don’t think it will serve their listening as well as people who get the cd. They will get the proper listening experience of what we wanted. There will be a special edition with the tracks tacked on at the end or something [on cd].

Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of Riley, I know there’s a smidge more clean vocals on this album. Have you been pushing him to have him do a bit more with them?

Burgess: Yes – I’m a huge fan of clean vocals in metal. But when we put them on, we initially had way more clean vocals on the record when we were tracking it. It just didn’t sound great. It’s not that he sang bad or anything. But there were clean vocals in the chorus of “Apoptosis” and it sounded like Killswitch Engage. That’s not really what Allegaeon is – that’s not what we are going for and it just didn’t work. We so we removed them. We did another section in a different song and it was way too Strapping Young Lad, and our producer told us to put the kibosh on it. Then there another section that sounded very Faith No More.

I’m listing all these bands that we really like, but it wasn’t us. It sounded forced, so we decided to scream it. We want to do it, but it has to be right. If it isn’t going to sound the way we want it to, we aren’t going to put it out. That’s exactly what happened. We expected a lot more than what we ended up with. It just wasn’t going to happen.

Dead Rhetoric: At least at this point, you have a good idea of what Allegaeon is, and you can recognize when something isn’t going to work for the band.

Burgess: To put them in to put them in, just to put them in is disingenuous. It would also feel way too much like a sell-out move. It would seem like we put them in just to grab new fans. While we want those fans, we don’t want to patronize them. I don’t want to pretend that they are stupid to grab them, it’s a really bad way to go about it in my mind.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that there is a bit of scientific method to the way that you write as a band?

Burgess: Not particularly – we’ve written the same way that we always have. “Interphase/Meiosis” and “Extremophiles (A)” were through-composed, which has never really happened before. There’s not really a chorus, and it’s just really a song. Usually we are into pop song structures, but the songs flowed in a certain way that didn’t really lend themselves to that format. That was really different for us. But at the same time, that’s just how it came out. Nothing is really planned out, you just write what’s best for the song. The song rules all. Even if it doesn’t fit the format of what the band has done in the past, you have to see where the song goes.

Dead Rhetoric: Many in Allegaeon play in other bands on the side or tour with other bands, how do you feel that helps to enhance Allegaeon itself?

Burgess: Absolutely. There was a time when Michael was in 3 bands. I’m in 3 bands. Riley is in a few bands and has a few little projects. Brandon Michael gigs constantly. He has a covers band that he gigs with for a big portion of his income actually. Brandon [Park] does session work. What that does is keeps Allegaeon fresh. Sometimes after touring together for so long, the last thing we want to do is play Allegaeon music. But if you just sit at home and not play, you get rusty. It’s good to stretch those muscles and stay fresh. Doing Nuclear Power Trio for me, or Organosyde, it’s a lot of fun and it ignites the passion I have for music – which funnels itself back to Allegaeon. I’m way more excited to play with Allegaeon after I have done something else. We fully encourage people to have side projects, because it really does impact the band in a positive way. It keeps creativity and moral high.

Dead Rhetoric: So finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

Burgess: Right now we are trying to put together a weekend warrior for around the release date. It’s super short notice because we parted with our agent and it screwed us for the release of the album. We are trying to do our best to go out and promote. We are going to Australia in May, and at this point, we have talked about some other things. We are going back to Europe to do some festivals and things in June.

Dead Rhetoric: Is that the first time you’ve done a festival circuit in Europe?

Burgess: Yes – we’ve played one festival over in the Netherlands, it was Royal Metal Fest with Ensiferum and Bloodbath as the headliners. That was great – one of my favorite shows we have played over there. But yeah, this will be the first time we are playing more than one.

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