Iris Divine – Into the Cosmic Sea

Monday, 23rd March 2015

A progressive metal three-piece…have to think really hard about finding a group of bands worth mentioning. They’re virtually a non-entity, with the style’s primary bands having conventional setups to attune for the sterling musicianship needed to accommodate being “progressive.” Virgina’s Iris Divine, however, don’t need an expanded lineup to make their sound full and voluminous – they do it quite well with just three dudes.

The band’s new Karma Sown (Sensory) is a masterful blend of top-notch musicianship and hook-oriented alternative metal. Think of them as a heavier Rush or less pretentious Dream Theater draped in the hook-laden sounds of Alice in Chains or even King’s X, another trio worth harping about. Point being, Iris Divine is one of the more exciting progressive metal bands to hit the scene in recent memory, which is all the more reasons to pop some Q’s their way for a chat…

Dead Rhetoric: By today’s standards, a progressive metal three-piece is rare. And, you guys sound far more full and musical than a regular trio would suggest. How do the three of you make it all work so well? 

Kris Combs: Wow, thanks! I think it comes down to how the individual parts of the songs are written in relation to the others. We really like to come up with various counterpoints to what someone else might be doing instead of everyone always following the guitar or vocals. That really gets interesting when those counterpoints are built on their own time signatures. It creates this weaving polyrhythmic…I don’t know…trance (the vibe, not the music!). I think when you take that mindset, and then add in the extra layer of programming on top of it, that’s where the “fullness” comes from.

Navid Rashid: Yes, thank you.  Another aspect is making sure that we are thoughtful about our parts.  For instance, as a guitar player in a trio, I am conscious of extended chords, arpeggios, and other elements that add harmonic color and work within the space.  Our rhythm section as well, takes the time to create variety and take advantage of the freedom that a three-piece configuration offers.  Interestingly, because our previous lineup was a four-piece, we had assumed that another guitar player would be needed.  But after trying out a few guys and continuing to write, things just felt inarguably better as a three-piece, and you can’t argue with chemistry.

Dead Rhetoric: To that point, are you okay with being called “progressive?” Seems like any ‘ole band slaps themselves with the term and runs with it…

Combs: To me, the word “progressive” is completely overused and misunderstood. Most people who use it often mistake it for “technical,” which is another topic entirely. You can be technical without being progressive, and vice versa. Dream Theater, when they started out, they made the conscience decision to take the epic side of Yes, the technicality of Rush, and the heaviness of Metallica, throw them all in the pot and then add spice on top of that. That, to me, is the very definition of “progressive;” when you discover new ground within a genre or a batch of them. We have technical moments, we’re also alternative and even a little poppy at times. Progressive? Like with Dream Theater, I think a conscious decision has to be made to go that route and we don’t really approach songwriting that way, so I don’t know how that term fits us honestly.

Rashid: I think part of the trouble is whether you are referring to the adjective “progressive,” or a genre/sub-genre.  For me, lot of it comes down to how best to communicate aspects of our sound to others, in a generally accepted language.  To that end I think it fair to refer to us as prog, proggy, prog-metal or whatever.  It is the easiest way to communicate our frequent use of odd meters, sometimes nonlinear song structures, etc.  And for me, it is a compliment, especially when listeners draw comparisons between us and other bands I love, that would be considered within the genre.  But I do agree that lately it seems like so many bands are labeling themselves that way on the basis of technicality but not necessarily other aspects of what most of us would consider progressive.

Dead Rhetoric: The last year or so for the band…what’s it been? I’ve seen your name dropped quite a bit, so that had to of helped.

Rashid: It’s been an exciting year!  We finished the CD, ran a modest but successful Kickstarter campaign, and have a record that appears to have been very well received so far, both in terms of music and production.  To end the year with label and management interest is more than we could have hoped for!  When we first released the album in December 2014, we simply hadn’t considered a good promotional strategy, and even then, our name was starting to just slowly get out there, with a handful of very positive reviews.  Once Sensory picked us up, we quickly pulled the record from all outlets, and we are hoping that the official (re)release on 3/31/15 via Sensory will really increase our visibility.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s also some backlash to doing a Kickstarter campaign, but in your case, it was certainly the right move. Would it be something you would do again? And, were you surprised at the positive reaction? 

Combs: I personally don’t understand the negativity towards Kickstarter. If you don’t like pizza, don’t eat it. If you don’t want to help bands (or other artists for that matter) reach a goal and receive some cool rewards in return, then don’t donate. It’s that simple. Look, the music business isn’t what it was in the 80s. It’s beyond difficult to make money as a new artist these days. Even established artists have it tough. Kickstarter is a way to turn your dreams into a reality…and we were beyond thrilled at the response we received from our campaign. Yea, I could definitely see us doing it again in the future.

Dead Rhetoric: What made you sign with Sensory? 

Rashid: Sensory’s track record and roster make perfect sense for us.  They are obviously rooted in metal bands with progressive sensibilities (there’s that word again), and understand that audience very well.  Some of their amazing past and present artists include Redemption, Circus Maximus, Haken, and more.  The deal made sense, and given that this is really our first true full length record, it was great to find a willing partner to help us grow further.

Dead Rhetoric: Were there other labels interested? 

Rashid: A little bit…the way it went down, is that we first ended up signing with Intromental Management, who work with lots of great bands such as Kingcrow and Leprous.  We had approached them years ago, but this time things just seemed to ‘click’.  Once we joined up with Intromental, they wasted no time in hooking us up with Sensory, and we saw no reason to wait!

Dead Rhetoric: As for Karma Sown, it’s such a complex, yet digestible listen. Going into the songwriting for the album, what was the goal? 

Combs: Thanks! I personally wasn’t thinking about that while we were writing it. Navid probably was, but to me, it was more about hitting a certain number of completed songs, looking at them as a group, and seeing if they all would work together on an album. We had nine songs when we hit the studio, but it was the eight that ultimately ended up on it that really felt like a complete “album” to us.

Rashid: One band I really admire in this regard is Rush’s classic 80s/90s material –  their music is quite challenging, but very memorable; the average listener just gets a catchy, rocking song, but for those interested in the details, the prog elements are integrated into the songs, a mode of expression rather than something that feels gratuitous.  Similarly, in our writing, we tried to make sure that every song had the fundamentals of melody, hooks, groove, and coherence.  We all just enjoy writing and playing in odd meters etc., so those elements just naturally occur.  Karma Sown, to my ears, has a lot of details to reward the observant listener, but hopefully is an enjoyable listen even if you just feel like rocking out.

Dead Rhetoric: “Everlasting Sea” gets my nod as the best tune of the lot. It’s technical, but at the same time, doesn’t go overboard. For you, which songs from the album are working best for you? 

Combs: Sweet! Yea, “Sea” has definitely done well for us. We released a demo of it in 2013 in order to showcase the new lineup and people have really taken to it. Aside from that, “In the Wake of Martyrs” and “Apathy Rains” have garnered some amazing feedback, the latter being what Navid refers to as the album’s dark horse.

Rashid: At the risk of sounding cliché, hopefully every song has some sort of distinctive quality.  That’s the goal, anyways.  “Sea” was basically the first music I wrote to establish that we wanted to carry on after our near-implosion in 2012, so I think I was probably aware on some level of wanting to make sure that it captured the most characteristic aspects of our style.  I love big riffs like the intro riff of the song, and the guys created a great groove behind it.  We’ve gotten some great feedback on the instrumental “In Spirals,” which was exciting because we don’t really do a lot of instrumental music, and I for one don’t even listen to instrumental music much.  I don’t generally play a lot of longer guitar solos, so I’m pretty fond of the one in “Prisms,” where I take my time a little more.  I will agree that “Apathy Rains” exceeded my expectations – I was very particular about wanting a specific atmosphere, and it took a lot of subtle layering and the right mix to achieve that melancholy.  Though it’s a slower song for us, even some of our most ‘metal’ fans say it’s their favorite haha.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the live approach going to be for the new album? 

Combs: We’ve actually been playing the majority of the songs from the album since June of 2013, which was roughly nine months before we hit the studio, so even before we went into the studio we were well rehearsed for these songs. I think road-testing material is extremely important. We also didn’t waste any time getting back on stage once the meat of the album was recorded.  From here, our shows will obviously be based around the album, but we also don’t stop writing, so you can definitely expect to hear some new-new stuff at our shows.

Rashid: The songs seem to translate well to the stage.  Being a trio, what you may lose in little studio details, you gain in live energy and musical interplay.  Our music is genuinely fun to play, and I can’t wait to get back out there!

Dead Rhetoric: Finally, what’s on deck for the rest of 2015? 

Combs: Hopefully touring! We’d love to do a few 1-2 week treks as a direct support act. Iris has been a local Northern Viriginia band since its inception, and now with the help of Sensory and Intromental, we’re looking to become recognized on a national level.

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