Strigoi – Dread and DespairSunday, 1st December 2019
With Greg Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre having served it’s intended musical purpose, it wasn’t long after it’s demise that he announced the formation of Strigoi. The next step up from that of Vallenfyre, Strigoi takes the route of darkness and dread, alongside brutality, and puts it all into a blender of death metal, crust, punk, doom, and even some black metal. It’s far greater than the sum of its parts in execution, and leads to a new exploration of bleak musical themes. We grabbed bassist/lyricist Chris Casket to give us some more info about the new act, as well as some insight into the lyrical and visual aspects, and even dive into some of his thoughts on bass.
Dead Rhetoric: Strigoi stems from the ashes of Vallenfyre. What do you feel is different about Strigoi?
Chris Casket: I think first of all, the primary reason that Vallenfyre came about in the first place…and the reason that Strigoi has happened, is that Greg [Mackintosh] wanted Vallenfyre to be what it was. Having an avenue to express that side of his musical acumen, without having any sort of initial connotations – that, I think is one of the differences. The other thing is that largely I wrote the lyrics, which he asked me to do. He’s a very accomplished lyricist. I’m an enormous fan of Vallenfyre, which is how he and I met. That was just part of the process that he didn’t enjoy as much as doing the music. I think that’s a stark difference. I clearly have a different writing style than him.
The sound is also a difference. People have been saying it’s more cinematic. Vallenfyre was pushing as far into the crust and ground level as Greg could. With Strigoi, it’s a lot more austere. It is a different concept. When people hear the album and see how it’s presented it will make a lot more sense, and the differences will become more obvious. There are still going to be some close approximations, because it’s the same guy singing and writing the music. So there are similar elements there. But as Greg said when it was announced, this is the natural progression, or next step, so to speak. There will be some similarities and differences, because Vallenfyre was that band, and Strigoi is this band.
Dead Rhetoric: Being asked to do all of the lyrics – could you talk about the lyrics and where you drew inspiration from for the album?
Casket: I didn’t do them all, but I did the majority of them. There’s a song called “Carved into the Skin” on the record that is solely Greg. That was the catalyst for what Strigoi is now. The process was that he gave me a loose idea of the themes – attack organized religion, and we both agreed that there are a number of humanist ideas that run through the album. I despise belief and I despite hypocrisy, and you can find that in all walks of life and in things that people deal with every day. I try to write out real horror. The horror of human existence, for this particular thing and we wanted to keep to that. You can’t make it up. What human beings do to other human beings is infinitely more horrific than anything you can make up. Particularly in regards to organized religion. I did an interview the other day where I said that there’s been more suffering caused by organized religion than any natural disaster, and I think I’m right in saying that. So there’s those sort of elements.
I wanted to leave the lyrics open to interpretation as well. Different people will take different things away from each particular song. There are songs on there in particular that are written from me personally, with a definite standpoint. But I wanted to try and keep it open. That’s why I don’t tend to use the words “me” or “you” or “I,” because I want it to be more of a third-person commentary on a particular subject matter. So there are elements of religion, politics, mental health, and relationships in whatever guise they might take. It’s quite a broad spectrum of negativity, I suppose you could say [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Was it a bit daunting when Greg asked you to write lyrics, based on his previous efforts?
Casket: Of course! The first lyrics I sent over were for a song called “Throne of Disgrace,” which didn’t make it to the record. I sent them, along with a couple of other ideas. I didn’t hear anything for probably about ten days or so. By that point, I was thinking, “Does he want me to elaborate?” I didn’t really know because we were both busy, and the next thing I knew he sent over a completed song saying he thought it was pretty cool and was asking my thoughts on it. That was the song, and that was were we went with it.
Predominately, we are friends so he knows that if he tells me he doesn’t like something, I’m not going to get upset about it. There’s no benefit in having any sort of ego, especially when its just the two of us – you just want to make sure you are on the same page and forge towards the result. Initially, it was daunting but it wasn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. I’m just glad that he liked my writing style and what I was doing. Some songs he would add different bits and pieces to – it was a very fluid process that ultimately worked.
Dead Rhetoric: One thing that stands out to me with the album is how thick and abrasive it sounds. How important is the guitar tone to an album such as this?
Casket: It’s vital, and I think that’s the reason that Greg decided to write and record, and do all of those other elements himself. He had stumbled upon the sound he really wanted, and it was a combination of a number of elements. Same with the bass as well. There was some experimentation until we found where that tone was going to fit in with the guitar in order to make it into this bludgeoning experience that it is. Also, it was considered to not be another HM-2 album, even though we love that scene and that sound. There are elements of those pedals on there, but we wanted to push things further.
It’s a gamble – you want to push your sound to be obnoxious as you can, while being as musical as you can. Some people might like it and some might not, but it really suited the general air of aggression. I was speaking to someone the other day, that it was similar with the lyrics. To try to convey something extreme while showing some elegant restraint as well. That’s why there’s no bad language on the album. It’s the same with the guitar playing. It’s bludgeoning while there are some beautiful parts. It’s designed to make the listener uneasy and transport them. It’s meant to be an experience.
Dead Rhetoric: The black & white outlook an aesthetic choice for the band? I’ve been looking at various things with the band, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not – things like the video and the album art itself.
Casket: It was definitely considered. Greg and I did the artwork as well. Initially, it was a desire – for 12 months, the only thing that anyone knew about the band was the phantom face that I had designed. It was a desire to keep everything simplistic and dual-toned while having this air of foreboding about it. Thinking back, I remember when I was in high school and if you liked a band, you might copy their logo on their bag…and Greg spoke about painting a logo on your jacket. We were trying to find an aesthetic that was simple and effective – less is more. It’s the same with the mix with the record as well.
The music is quite bleak, and when it’s just black & white and high contrast, again it can be uncomfortable to the eye as well. That also gives an air of what the concept is inside the album. We wanted people to judge the book by it’s cover, so to speak. The title, Abandon All Faith, and this stark black & white imagery. That should convey that this isn’t a jubilant sort of production. This isn’t going to be nice. So it was certainly a consideration.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems that there’s a theme of uneasiness, and a little bit of despair – do you think that allows you to stand out against the bands that are more just a blunt hammer of aggression?
Casket: Yeah – the thing that I gravitated to with Vallenfyre, and a friend of mine recorded the first album so I had heard the demos. So I was a fan instantly, and the reason for that was that mixtape aesthetic. The ebb and flow of an album – you’ll have a grindcore song, an all-out doom song, a crust/punk song, and some black metal in there as well. I really like that as an experience because there’s a theme that runs thought the album. I always used to enjoy an album complete – as opposed to liking particular tracks. There’s certainly a place in the market for bands that are just all out for 25 minutes. I think the benchmark is still Reign in Blood. It’s short and relentless. With us doubling that time, you need to have the calm in order for the storm to have impact.
Rather than it just being a relentless diatribe of misery, you need different tempos. I hope it does stand out, because for me, Vallenfyre always did. You can’t get away from good songwriting. Greg is a master at that. I’m probably just learning. I’m still going through Paradise Lost’s back catalog, because I only knew a little and owned a few albums. It would be really good if people took that [the additional elements] away from the album when they hear it.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you gained in experience from working with different bands over the years?
Casket: Every experience is different, and everything is a learning curve. I think one of the best things for my career was doing a project called Death Dealers. It was with Dean Jones, and Charlie Claeson whom I’ve still never met. He’s the drummer from Anti-Cimex, so that was a big deal. Unfortunately, that was the last album that Philip [Vane] did. To have been a part of that, because unfortunately he passed away – I took from it. I learned a lot from it. I’ve been in projects in different genres with bands with different styles, and different labels. Working with Candlelight Records in the UK is different from working with MCR in Japan.
I try to see the positive in any situation. You are always learning and this is life’s rich tapestry. I’ve recorded in different studios and have had different ways of working. Every band that I have been involved with has been a positive, even if ultimately it may have ended badly at the time. That’s what happens in the industry. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just fortunate that this one does.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as the role of bass in extreme metal?
Casket: I think bass is actually a lot more important than people realize. If you want a heavy guitar tone, you need the bass there. Otherwise it doesn’t matter how many amps you are running, without a decent bassist. I pick where I need to be, and I like being in the background. I like being in the situation where I can lock in with the drummer, and bring that heaviness to it. Coming from a guitarist background, I just enjoy playing bass more…particularly live. It’s always been something that I have enjoyed. You feel it, and that’s where I feel my position is in the band, rather than trying to be the Slash character up on a pedestal [laughs]. I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. That’s what I take from it.
I think every member of a band is important. If you take one element away, it’s not going to be as heavy or as cool, or as effective. Being the bass player, it’s also afforded me more time to concentrate on other elements of the band. I’m just as vitally important with artwork, dealing with the labels, or other things. Someone else is composing more of the music, so you have a little more time to be the bedrock. It’s usually the drummer or the bassist that’s the foundation of the band, and I kind of like that background. Let the lead guitarist go out and do what they need to do, and I can just wait in the background.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any goals for where Strigoi is going to head at this point?
Casket: We just announced two live members, so we will be taking it live. I think that’s the next step. I’m excited about the album coming out and seeing what people make of it as well. To see people grabbing up the vinyl, which is going to be a gatefold that I’m really excited about. So that people can do what I did when I was 13, which was going through all the lyrics and the artwork and all that – I don’t know if people still do that or not. But yeah, we will be taking it live.
We are in the middle of doing pre-production now, and talking ideas about how to present the material. It’s another exciting time. The writing process is exciting, then the recording process is exciting…and it went off to one of my favorite producers in Kurt Ballou. That was exciting to see what he would do with it. Now we are doing interviews, which is exciting, and next is the live presentation. So we are figuring out how to present everything and give it the gravitas it deserves. Those are the things that I’m really looking forward to.
Dead Rhetoric: Just wanted to mention, I still take a look over everything when I get an album but I’m almost 40 so…
Casket: Likewise…people miss it right? I remember even being at school and collectively as friends we would travel to London to go and buy records. Now you can go online and boom, they arrive. But there was something about that experience of getting some money together and going up there. It was the whole thing of coming home and then going to a friend’s house [to listen]. Even with CDs as well, but we liked vinyl because it was bigger…and I think it was cheaper than a CD. So you’d get it, and I was right at the tail end of doing tape trading, which is what got me into crust. I’m really fortunate, that in my home town there is an independent record store that is still there now. I learned so much from the same guys running it. I might just go down there and ask them about whatever band, and I got introduced to different bands. I don’t know if they just sold me records so I would go home [laughs], but you’d get an album and go home and look at the detail. There was an element of ownership.
I kind of feel like music is now a disposable commodity. I still hold it as an art form, and I’ve got an eclectic taste. It’s special to me. I also really like box sets. In the underground, there’s so many bands that do some amazing DYI releases and I’m the first person to buy them. It’s exciting when you put it on and you see all of the work that someone has put into it. Downloading something, and having it on your phone or whatever, you are missing those other elements that are important to the experience. If you go to a cinema to see a film, that’s how it was designed to be seen and consumed. Music – the bands put so much effort into what makes it up, I think people are missing out if they don’t embrace that still. I get convenience, but I would rather have those other elements because I feel I’m enjoying it in the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next for Strigoi, besides the album release?
Casket: There’s nothing that I can say at this point, but of course, if people want to check us out, we have all of the social media platforms running. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – I try to be as proactive as I can with that to keep people informed. There will be some new concepts coming over the next couple of months. Of course, we will announce things as soon as we can.