Cast the Stone – Darkened HorizonsTuesday, 25th September 2018
While many will be sure to shine the ‘supergroup’ light on Cast the Stone, it’s not the usual story you’d expect to hear. The band actually first came to be in the early 2000s, the result of friendships and a love of metal. It just so happened that being talented players, they found their way into other bands before a proper foundation could be laid down for Cast the Stone. So while it may have been delayed, it had never been forgotten.
Now with plenty of experience at their disposal, Cast the Stone has released their first EP, Empyrean Atrophy, garnering praise for their diverse approach to death metal. We grabbed guitarist Mark Kloeppel to talk about the origins of the band, their cover of “Jesusatan” and Swano’s involvement, as well as what’s going on with Misery Index and Scour.
Dead Rhetoric: Cast the Stone first came to be back in 2002. The inevitable first question is, what has taken so long to get out some new material after the 2005 debut?
Mark Kloeppel: Starting a band from scratch is hard. It takes a really long time. What happened with us, was we formed and started playing around in regional clubs and started getting shows with bands like Satyricon and Lamb of God and we were drawing pretty good. As it happens, you become this regional thing and you play with these killer bands. All those bands on tour always take note of the killer players out on the road, and so we each got picked off one by one [laughs]. For better or worse, that was a faster track than starting the band at that point. We’ve all toured all over the planet in various bands, some notable ones, so essentially it came to now and we had written some music and it was sort of rotting on my hard drive.
We never stopped talking about it, so I suggested that we should get it going. We thought the best way was to get the demo out and shop it around, since we have some bigger names now. The original idea was to release the demos on a smaller label and just put it out so that it was doing something instead of sitting around on a hard drive. Agonia [Records] caught wind of it and they wanted to hear it. They gave us a deal to re-record the songs, so we did that with Dan Swano. We had a bit of a budget, for artwork and things like that, which this band had never had before. We had some experience under belt at that point, so we really put the budget to work. The EP came out sounding fantastic. Dan did a great job, and we just recorded it the way we would have for our other projects. It turned out really good!
Dead Rhetoric: So how old were some of these songs?
Kloeppel: Some of them weren’t really songs but ideas, we had demos of this stuff. None of these songs have appeared in public before, at least in a recorded form. We’ve had versions of these ideas floating around that we would play live way back when. But they hadn’t seen the light of day until now. They’ve been through several million revisions [laughs] and they finally made their way to the public.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you gotten a lot of people thinking the band was new, due to being apart from it for so long?
Kloeppel: Well, it pretty much is [laughs]. We can say that we were a local band at one point, but we’ve always kept in touch and were good friends, so we always threw music around here and there. You can think about it as us spending all that time in pre-production. We spent 15 years doing pre-production for an EP [laughs]! Of course, having entire music careers in that time span as well. We never gave it up. We kept kicking the can down the street, and we finally got it together and put it out. I feel like the time was right.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned how everyone had taken their experiences and what they’ve learned in getting your budget across. Where there other ways that you feel people brought things in with the recording of the EP?
Kloeppel: The recording process went really smoothly. All of us have several albums out now. To go back to ideas that were coming the most naturally to all of us, it just made recording [easy]. I’d get a guitar track done in a couple takes with no big deal. Jesse [Schobel] recorded all his own drums in his home studio with his own mics, and Swano did not replace anything. He did the rock drum approach to the mix, where you make the overhead sound the best they can, and then you mix the drums up into the overheads. That reinforces itself. Those drums you hear, that’s about as good as it gets for me at least. None of the drumming is fake – that’s what it sounds like. That was really cool. I feel like having made a few records and coming back to it, I could feel the breadth of experience going through it. I was like, “Hey Jesse, I need some solid drum tracks” and a week later he had them back.
I did guitars and it took me maybe two days [laughs]. Derek [Engemann] took a few more for bass, and I think Andy [Huskey] probably took the longest out of all of us doing the vocals. But if you listen to those vocals, they are ridiculous. Every take is on 10. There’s a lot of layers and subtle nuance with it. If you dig in and listen to it, it’s crazy what he has done with multi-tracking. For him, he’s just my best friend and has been for a really long time. He’s the guy that introduced me to metal itself when we were 12 years old. He doesn’t have a record out, this is his first one. To come out like that, it’s just awesome. He took the longest because he had to live up to the quality of the rest of our tracks, but man, he did. He’s probably got the best tracks out of anyone on the whole thing. His vocal tracks and my guitar tracks, they don’t even hold a candle to it [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny you mention that, because you did the cover of “Jesusatan,” and the original is just so intense, and yours has that same quality to it.
Kloeppel: Yeah, we own the cover. We got Swano’s blessing on it. He’ll even tell you that he thinks its better than the original. It’s not too hard to be better than the original though, because it was a drum machine project. He was just starting to record with a Mac. That was the purpose of making that record was to figure that out. We just thought it would be really cool, because those riffs are so fucking good, to expand it out in a full band setting. Really mind our P’s and Q’s with the tracking, and making it really Bloodbath-level clean. It turned out pretty cool. Dan was pretty stoked about it. We are pretty big Swano fans, so it was nice to give him a nod as he was mixing it. I think he enjoyed mixing it too. He told us there was only one other band that ever covered that song. Which I found surprising, but maybe not, as Infestdead’s kind of an unknown band – probably his least known project out of all of them.
Dead Rhetoric: While we are on the subject, could you talk about the “Jesusatan” video you released. It’s pretty trippy.
Kloeppel: Our friend David Hall does stuff for Today is the Day, Portal, and the Melvins. He’s a buddy and he loves that album too. We told him to go crazy. We gave him the song and told him to do what we wanted, as the song was ridiculous anyway. We had to turn down three drafts initially. I don’t even want to tell you what was in it. It was disgusting! If you thought that one was offensive, you should have seen the first three drafts. He went there [laughs]. Maybe at some point we will let people see those. We weren’t so bold as to take it that far. Honestly, it’s kind of an outlier on the EP anyways, it’s a fun track. We aren’t Satanists over here; we just like the riffs.
Dead Rhetoric: As you say, that song is kind of an outlier on the EP. There’s a wider variety at play than just the obvious, with progressive and other elements. Do you feel the band has a lot of directions is could go in?
Kloeppel: Yeah, as I detailed in how everything came together and came out, it’s not like we thought a great deal about what this band was supposed to sound like. We had a bunch of ideas that we thought were cool, and had been sitting around for a while and put them together out of the demos. Probably from here, we’ll take the bits and pieces that are more refined and further define our sound. It’ll probably go somewhere between the first track, “As the Dead Lie” and the title track. We probably aren’t going to go too much more in the atmospheric direction, more solid grooves and heaviness. We do the like more Swedish approach.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as the status of Cast the Stone, considering the high-profile acts that many of you currently belong to?
Kloeppel: It’s a side project, I guess. A side project that we hold very dear [laughs]. Obviously, it’s not going to take up as much time as the other stuff does. But it’s something that we are going to forge ahead with and see how it goes. With the sound, we have some distinct musical moments that only happen in this band. I think now that we have been allowed the support we need to explore that, we will see how this unfolds.
We didn’t think anything was going to happen with this EP, much less get a label deal and do all this promo, and have it catch on like this. It’s really caught on. Spotify numbers on the first single are upwards of 40,000 which is crazy coming out of nowhere. So I think people are digging it. We might do some shows – we are playing Full Terror Assault, we are doing a record release show. We had a European and American agency pick us up pretty much within a week of the first single dropping. Who knows what’s going to happen with this? We will let it ride, let the opportunities roll in, and see where it goes.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got Misery Index, Scour, and now this band. What do these different death metal bands/directions allow to you do, creatively?
Kloppel: They all have a little bit of something different to offer. What I like about all three of them is that they have a very distinct voice in their own style. I think that’s the most important thing nowadays. There’s tons of copycatting going on in the scene, and people get away with it by calling it by these microsubgenres. I think the whole thing is bogus. Rather than cater to a small minority that happens to like sweep picking and junt-junt riffs, why don’t you spend some time really thinking about things and developing your style? It can be evolutionary of course. Metallica came out with Kill ‘Em All, and a few albums later, they are at Master of Puppets. They can evolve. When they first come out, it’s more leaning on influences than their own voice. That’s cool. But some of these bands are like 3-4 albums deep. It’s like, c’mon man. It sounds too much like this other stuff.
I think Misery Index progressed the same way. I think Jason Netherton started it off with a pretty good foundation to having it’s own voice. Then I got dropped in and we collaborated and I was able to bring a few other elements to the table. We are who we are. There’s just a joke going on around the scene, at least with the musicians anyways, that Misery Index just does what they do, since no one knows what to call it other than just death/grind.
It’s hard to just call it that, just as Scour. Would you really call it black metal? It leans a lot on pre-black metal, but with the extremity of metal today. It’s simple song structures, but razor-fast guitar picking and hooks – leaning more on more traditional stuff like Bathory. Before it was being called black metal, it leans on that kind of stuff. You can hear there’s areas that are intentionally overlooked, and I feel that way it’s been artisan created and there’s a distinct voice that’s not in other projects. Of course, we have big Phil [Anselmo] singing and he sounds like he has not sounded on anything he had done before. He’s an incredibly diverse vocalist, and I can’t tell if they are overrating him one day or underrating him the next day but he’s a phenomenal frontman and vocalist. Just amazing what he can pull off. You listen to the Red EP and who would have thought that he could get that brutal and pull it off. He does it, and he does it live and it’s amazing. But yeah, the coolest part of all three bands is that we have distinct voices and we focus on that. Cast a Stone is in more of a developmental phase, but that’s okay because that’s what you do with a band.
Dead Rhetoric: You bring up a good point in bands sounding like other bands. There’s no effort put in, and I’m not sure how it can change at this point…
Kloeppel: We are just dropping things into templates at this point. You can tell when it’s cookie-cutter and that stinks. It sounds like something you’ve heard before, and you can name the band even. I don’t want to rag on other bands too much though. It’s a hard scene, and if you have something good going and people like it, more power to you. From a music nerd’s point of view, that’s how I feel about it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any plans for Scour and Misery Index at the moment?
Kloppel: Misery Index is going to be playing in Switzerland, then I am flying back and playing Full Terror Assault with Cast the Stone. Scour has the Tecate fest down on Monterrey with Accept and Cannibal Corpse. We have a few other shows in December in California. For Misery Index and Cast the Stone, we are planning on figuring out what we are going to do event-wise.