Crusadist – Hammer and TriumphSaturday, 11th January 2020
Certain cities in the United States naturally thrive as metal hotbeds – New York City and Los Angeles probably being in the top tier, but many would also put the Mid-West city of Chicago also in the spotlight. Crusadist hail from that city – intertwining an addictive form of death/thrash that is progressive and melodic, incorporating a bevy of influences domestic and abroad. Their first full-length The Unholy Grail can stand toe to toe with the stronger label releases as of late – crushing riffs, varied growls and screams, and engaging songs that appeal to legions of metal followers.
We reached out to vocalist Shaun Albro and guitarist Luke Sever to learn more about this band. Prepare to learn about the songwriting approach, lyrical content, thoughts on their DIY status and what to expect in the pipeline for the next year.
Dead Rhetoric: Crusadist started in 2017 – with two of the members playing previously together in Against the Plagues. What can you tell us about the formation of this new group and did you know straight away the style you wanted to develop that maybe differed from past bands, or was there a feeling out process in rehearsals and initial songwriting to get to the Crusadist formula so to speak?
Shaun Albro: Myself and Aaron were involved in some other projects after Against the Plagues went on hiatus. Kevin our bassist actually played a few shows in Against the Plagues towards the end. When Crusadist was being formed, we went in with open minds and wanted to create something fresh. There definitely was a lot of experimenting and fleshing out parts as the songs were being written. We didn’t have any specific formula, just felt it out and let the songs evolve naturally.
Dead Rhetoric: You recorded an initial three-song demo the following year trying to secure a second guitar player – which is how Luke Sever entered the picture. How did you feel about this initial recording, and did it establish Crusadist as far as developing a following and allow the band to secure more shows in the local Chicago scene?
Luke Sever: The 3-song demo was a large stepping stone into our name entering the scene. All of us have been in previous bands in Chicago so that played a part in it as well, but having that small taste of what Crusadist is gave us a good boost towards getting on both smaller and more reputable shows. Dan did an awesome job producing the demo, so we had set the standard for us right off the bat production-wise.
Dead Rhetoric: The Unholy Grail is the debut full-length record for the band – and you recorded the album with Chris Djuricic who you have worked with in the past for Against the Plagues. Tell us about the recording and songwriting sessions for this album – were there any specific challenges, obstacles, or surprises that took place? How do you feel about the final product now that it’s finally out?
Sever: The songwriting sessions were split between our practice space in Chicago, and my own apartment. I have a small recording rig so once we got the basic layout of a newer track, we would meet at my place and get all the parts recorded so we could hear it back. So that helped tremendously, being able to go back and examine what we had written and determine how we could really make it better. We are extremely happy with the final product! Jeramie and Taylor (Smoke and Mirrors Productions) really did a stellar job mixing and mastering after Chris had worked his magic. Overall the recording processes went pretty smooth, and the quality of the record has been reinforced with the very positive feedback we’ve gotten so far post-release.
Dead Rhetoric: Overall I feel the band can blend together the feel of death and thrash with extra nuances of black and traditional metal in the mix, floating seamlessly song to song. How important is the balance between heaviness and intricacy against creating parts that are also catchy with a bit of a groove to them?
Sever: To be honest, we never really tend to focus too hard into that aspect of the songs. We, as a group, really bring those things out of each other when we are writing so they tend to come out more naturally. We all have so many influences from all over the spectrum of heavy metal, so each one of us throws in our style to make the tracks come together how they did on the album.
Dead Rhetoric: Where does the lyrical inspiration come from in Crusadist – do you prefer to touch upon social/political issues or fuel some of your topics based on fictional movies/books, etc. for content?
Albro: The lyrical content is driven by the emotions that come with the war within ourselves. I took real life trials and tribulations, the everyday struggles one goes through, within themselves and within society. It is meant to inspire and ignite the fighting spirit within. I have always been a fan of ancient history, role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy and Chronotrigger, Warhammer, etc. I wanted to have that style of imagery very present in helping to drive the story of a noble warrior constantly thrown into battle. Struggling with the duality of being a good person and a savage warrior in order to survive and ultimately overcome the obstacles, challenges, fears and doubts. When pursuing your dreams, there will be many things in your path that will try to beat you down, steal your fire and cause you to retreat. Crusadist depicts the warrior who fights through adversity and sets out to conquer and build a new empire of their own.
Dead Rhetoric: You sought out Swedish artist Par Olofsson (who’s done work for Immolation and Exodus among others) for the cover of The Unholy Grail. How does the process transform from initial concept to final product – are you working hand in hand with Par or do you give him the freedom to develop things based on his ideas and feel of the music?
Sever: Well we had contacted Par initially, telling him our concept of what we were thinking for the artwork. Mainly touching on the grail in the center, and having the feel like you are walking out of an old ruin in attempts to find it. He took off from there, developing all of the background and came back to us with updates every week or so. So he had a lot of freedom in creating it based off of our general idea.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the outlook of Crusadist when it comes to live performances versus your studio work? What do you want the audience to take away from seeing the band live- and what do you consider some of your best or most memorable performances to date with the group?
Sever: We want the audience to walk away from one of our shows feeling like they can conquer the world! We’ve slowly developed our stage attire over the years to have an essence of battle gear but not be too overwhelming so that the focus is still on the music. If you pay $10 to see us, we want to make sure we put on a $50 performance that you won’t forget. The most memorable show to me was when we opened for Nile and Terrorizer at The Forge in November. We were the second band, and the venue was already pretty packed even so early on a Wednesday night. The energy in the room was awesome, and we played very well. I’ll never forget that one!
Dead Rhetoric: What types of goals do the members of Crusadist set for themselves as to where they would like to take this band over the next year or two? Does it get harder and harder to establish a foothold in the metal landscape considering the number of bands fighting for limited attention and entertainment budgets in this instant technology, social media driven landscape?
Sever: We all have the same mindset of where we’d like to be from year to year thankfully. We have our first tour in March/April on the East Coast, a couple of festival appearances, and a good amount of shows already booked into next year so it’s getting busy fast! As far as end goals we’re pushing to get the album further as an independent release, ensure the tours success, build our merch inventory and hopefully end up signing to a label to help push us further.
It is definitely getting harder considering that once one band puts out a release of some sort, there are 10-20 more coming out in that same week. So we are striving to continuously create content that both our followers and those who haven’t heard of us can enjoy.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you prefer continuing to build the band on a self-financed, do it yourself/ independent basis, or would you want to move up the ranks to a label roster position? If so, what sort of things would you take into consideration in order to get into that type of situation?
Sever: The DIY method has at least gotten us started and built our foundation, but we are striving to be a part of a label roster. We are pushing to create the biggest and best monster that Crusadist can be. The biggest thing is professionalism. Making sure our shows are tight, that our performance matches our record, and maintaining that level of quality that we set very early on. We will keep pushing forward as far as our hard work can push us!
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe band chemistry and friendships are important to achieving all that you would like to achieve with Crusadist? Do you think it’s important to have people in specific roles to handle a lot of the business measures that also need to take place for a successful band?
Sever: Yes, it definitely plays a large role in us achieving our goals. You’ll never be as comfortable on stage and really put on a stellar performance as when you are friends with everyone in the group. That chemistry is very important to both live shows and the songwriting process. The phrase ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ comes to mind when I read that question. It’s good to have someone who is business minded and trustworthy to handle the business/management end of things. It makes things far more efficient to have specific roles for each member to perform, rather than everyone do everything at once.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of hobbies or activities do the members of Crusadist like to engage in away from the music to sort of recharge their batteries?
Sever: Me, Aaron, and Shaun are all nerds. During the album recording Aaron and Shaun would play Magic: The Gathering to pass the time, and Aaron has actually done some tournaments for it in the past. For me, I’m more of a video gamer and so is Kevin.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us five of the most important albums that have shaped your outlook on heavy metal to this day – and what have been some of the most memorable live concerts that you’ve witnessed throughout your lifetime, just as an attendee?
Sever: My most important albums would be Children of Bodom-Are You Dead Yet?, Bloodbath-Nightmares Made Flesh, Exmortus-Slave To The Sword, Revocation-Existence is Futile, and Iron Maiden-Powerslave. I think the best band I’ve seen live to this day is Insomnium. Those guys are one of the tightest and best performing bands out there now.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Crusadist or other musical activities for the members of the band over the next twelve months? Has work already begun on the follow-up effort – and if so, would you say it will be a natural extension of The Unholy Grail or will the band continue to challenge and expand its sound record to record?
Sever: We have a couple of festival appearances, a lot of shows, and a two week East Coast tour planned already for 2020. Work on the follow up record to The Unholy Grail has already started and it is definitely going to expand our sound but also make sure to not stray away from our roots. It’ll still be dark, epic, and chock full of melody and catchy riffs. Everyone is in for a killer year with us!