Sentient Ignition – Esoteric Aggression

Monday, 5th June 2017

The tough part about death metal is knowing how to balance the myriad of influences that can come into the material. So many different subgenres of death at this point that it’s a juggling act at best. But that doesn’t prevent more fresh acts from coming up with their own particular spin on things and pull in a variety of influences. California’s Sentient Ignition certainly hails in this direction, and do some rather impressive juggling.

Their first full-length, Enthroned in Gray, offers progressive, technical, and melodic sensibilities that death metal fans of all walks should appreciate. Suitably brutal, but with enough standout performances across the board to make it all stick. We fired off some questions to vocalist Sev and guitarist David to get their take on this up and coming act.

Dead Rhetoric: Who would you cite as the band’s major influences, and how do you describe the sound of Sentient Ignition?

David: I’ve been exposed to a lot of music at an early age through my father. I grew up on a steady diet of classical music and 70s prog rock. I think the moods and techniques from these two genres form the basic DNA of my compositional style. I also played some piano as a child, and Johann Sebastian Bach’s playfulness and epic storytelling has always struck me as an incredibly powerful force. I guess it’s pretty well known among metalheads nowadays that Bach is metal as fuck.

Then of course later on came a lot of modern metal that has stuck with me and whose essence I try to channel whenever I write music. I’ve always been equally drawn to American and European styles of metal: I love the raw power and groove in American metal and the drama and darkness in European metal. There are six metal albums that have left an especially deep mark on me: Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, Prayer for Cleansing’s The Rain in Endless Fall, Nagelfar’s Virus West, Capharnaum’s incredibly underappreciated Fractured, Keep of Kalessin’s Armada, and Wintersun’s self-titled album. These six albums mirror the combination of brutal, complex, epic, dark and melodic ideas that are at the core of Sentient Ignition.

Together, they assemble into a style that’s probably most accurately described as progressive death metal, but really any combination of prog/tech/melodic death metal with some epic and black metal elements applies to some degree. Sentient Ignition is very much an homage to modern metal and an attempt to unify various ideas from across sub-genres.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that Sentient Ignition has changed since the release of your demo last year?

Sev: In terms of vocal performance, I’ve tried to further expand the range of styles I use, and I really pushed myself to explore some of these more unusual vocal elements for the album. I developed most ideas in close connection with the lyrics. Each song is its own beast. Being able to modify my approach between and within each song is not something I have had the artistic freedom to do in other projects.

David: In terms of compositional direction, I wanted to make our sound as transparent as possible according to the sketch laid out in the demo. But more broadly, much of the music on Enthroned In Gray has existed for a few years already. Sentient Ignition has a somewhat weird and drawn out history, in that the band existed under another name (Admetos Dilemma) in Switzerland from 2001 to 2009, before I moved to the U.S. in 2012.

When I moved to the U.S., I had no plans to revive the band, but then I met Al Hu, the second guitarist, and he liked the compositions and learned some pretty complex guitar parts almost immediately. It was really him who encouraged me to revive the band and who provided the enthusiasm and logistics for us to recruit members for a full band. Once Ron (drums) and Chris (bass) joined, we recorded our demo with Zack Ohren at Castle Ultimate Productions in Oakland and we were really encouraged by the good reception. We got right back to work on writing, rehearsing and tracking the rest of the songs.

Recording, mixing, and mastering for the album were again done with Zack Ohren, and working with him the second time helped us to focus on subtle things that we wanted to finalize. Other than that, I think we’ve matured more in the last year in terms of our abilities as a live band. We actually only had a single show at the time we hit the studio for our demo, and now it’s closer to a dozen.

Dead Rhetoric: You blend multiple styles, both musically and lyrically, into your sound. Does this make it easier for you to write longer tracks without feeling like you are stretching the limits?

Sev: For the most part yes. David had written all these songs and presented the majority of them to us a as a body of work, with some tweaks to make here or there, so at first it appeared that they would be like a normal album with each song paying slight homage to the last. This was not the case at all. Every song is a different story and holds its own air. They vary wildly and each deserved to be written with fresh perspective and little hindrance. This album was a blast to write and if there ARE actually limits I’m hard pressed to find them.

David: Yes, I think using multiple styles is an important technique to write epic songs without exhausting the listener. I love prog, tech death, black metal and melodeath alike, but six minutes (let alone an entire album) of only one style can feel a little one-dimensional to me. Mixing styles automatically generates interesting dynamics in the storytelling of a song that mutually reinforce the appeal of each other and of different sections of a song. Like in “Binding Time,” the death/black metal blast riff that begins around 1:30 is much more powerful because the preceding prog/doom section builds up all this brooding tension beforehand.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there a song that you feel best defines the band on Enthroned in Gray?

David: There’s some disagreement about this in the band! For me, every song is deeply connected to my own personal and musical development, and the title track is the most recent chapter in this journey, so it feels most powerful and relevant to me. But others feel that for example the range of melodies and styles in “Grasp of the Infinite” is a better representation of our overall sound and mood. I also think that because the songwriting techniques I employ result in each song having a strong separate identity, there are limits to the extent to which a single song can really represent us.

Dead Rhetoric: The intro was composed by Michel Barengo. Would you like to integrate more of this sort of influence into the band in the future?

David: Yes, I was thinking about this possibility. Michel was actually the drummer in the Swiss version of the band, and we remain close friends. Unlike me, he is a professional musician and composer. I’ve always looked up to his incredible skill and talent and would love to integrate more of it into new compositions. I’d really like to write a song that directly combines some of his epic orchestral style with my metal riffing sometime. But, you know, he’s a very busy guy, and it’s not like there’s not enough orchestral metal out there – it’s a bit of a crowded space and we’re not interested in branding ourselves as another orchestral metal band.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you describe the direction that you gave Par Olofsson in regards to the art?

Sev: While some specifics in regard to visualizing the album title were given to Par, we kind of just handed him the base idea and let him run with it. Par is such a phenomenal artist that all of us agreed it would be most beneficial to let him do his thing. In terms of concept, lyrically the album is littered with references to the archaic and arcane, the ancient and decaying. So the image of the enthroned wraith fits really well with the ideas represented lyrically. There is definitely a deeper subtext at work as well. There are so many connections to make it would be impossible to address them all here.

Dead Rhetoric: Likewise, the band’s logo itself is pretty intricate – are there any details in the design that have particular relevance?

Sev: The center piece or effigy is representative of our bands name. It is roughly based on esoteric symbology and the concept of transcendence. The ignition of sentience is a transcendent event in and of itself so we felt it was fitting.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got a demo and one album under your belts at this point, what do you feel are the band’s long-term goals?

David: We’d like to continue developing our very own style of metal. To some degree, I think of the music we have so far as a proof of concept, that you can combine these different sub-genres of metal into a coherent alloy that doesn’t feel like patchwork. But in the end, much of the material can still be relatively easily associated with its respective subgenre on which it draws; it would be nice to move into a direction where our music sound more like a fundamental innovation of metal instead of “just” an amalgam.

Dead Rhetoric: Is the band interested in getting a label behind them or are you okay with the doing things independently?

David: In general, we’re definitely open to working with a label. A band is a small organization with tasks that go far beyond the core responsibilities of writing and playing music. Social media management, art design, PR, organizing shows and tours, etc are things that a label could do much better and more efficiently than we do ourselves. So we really appreciate the advantages that come with a label. On the other hand, some of us have somewhat unusual day jobs that may require some special provisions. It really depends on what type of arrangements with labels are possible and whether any of these are mutually beneficial.

Dead Rhetoric: Placing your work on Bandcamp, do you find any particular challenges in terms of getting your band seen among the hundreds of others?

David: Yes, despite the many doomsayers, my impression is there is a lot of very high quality metal coming out every week, so competition for attention is tough. And unlike some other metal bands that have been quite successful recently, we are not “the most X” in anything: we’re not the fastest, the most brutal, the most progressive, the most technical, or the most melodic band out there. We’re just all of those things to some extent! And since metal is all about extremes, it’s not obvious that our formula will find a big audience. Time will show how many people appreciate this “unified theory of modern metal” that we offer.

Additionally, now that we’ve gained a bit of experience into metal as a business, we’ve realized how professional and standardized many aspects of it are run that make it very hard to get attention without the capacities and influence of a label. That being said, Bandcamp is a great platform for independent bands and it definitely makes it easier to get your name out there without a label.

Dead Rhetoric: How much emphasis are you, as a band, putting on getting out for shows at this point?

David: Yeah, we’re definitely interested in getting our sound out there! We have a number of shows planned over the next few months, mainly in the Bay Area, and we hope to add some more in the near future. Ron, our drummer, and Chris, our bassist, are also session musicians for Botanist on their European tour this summer, so that limits our availability for summer shows. Also, our day jobs are putting some constraints on how much we can play live for the next few months, but we are looking into possibly touring the West Coast sometime next year.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for the band now that Enthroned in Gray is out?

David: We’re working on a number of things. We really want to continue to mature as a live band, so we’re playing as many gigs as we can and we’re building out our show to be more epic and impactful. As we’re beginning to work on new music, we’re thinking about what the next step in our evolution should be. We’ve recently switched from 6-string to 8-string guitars, which greatly expands the range of possibilities. We’re also hoping to record a playthrough video in the near future. And of course we’re in the process of writing new music, in which we’ll take a step into a newer, more unique sound, while preserving the core ideas of combining melodic, complex and heavy elements.

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