The Summoned – Revel in Controlled Chaos Part I

Friday, 30th June 2017

Strides and momentum shifts occur in bands as they gain more confidence, more ability, and more comfort in where they are going stylistically. Considering three of the members of northern Massachusetts band The Summoned have played together at this point for 13 years, it’s not surprising that what may have originally started in more of a metalcore/deathcore direction evolved into a sound that is technical death metal at its finest – progressive while keeping nuances of hooks and grooves to not totally lose people into this unsolvable, head scratching aural equation.

Starting in 2007, The Summoned have accomplished so much while keeping things churning on a self-released, do it yourself basis as they climb their way out of the underground. Continually learning, expanding, and honing on their craft, their latest album Sessions provides a clinic on what technical death metal should be about – heaviness, brutality, contrasts, surprises, beyond the obvious jaw-dropping musicianship and interplay that permeates these nine songs. Vocalist Steve Thompson asserts himself through rhythmic rotations which cause glass to shatter and blood vessels to burst, while guitarists Shaun Murphy and Jarred Sullivan supply progressive death chords with jazzy sophistication, all the while drummer Sam Hang juggling tempos from blasting insanity to contemplative, Rush/Cynic-oriented parts as if its second nature.

In the quest for more insight behind The Summoned, we sought out Shaun to learn not only more behind the heady concept of the record, what The Summoned have learned about themselves as they’ve transformed through the years, touring takeaways, and a little bit about Shaun’s yoga work that he’s been able to combine with his passion for metal. Let the controlled chaos take you on a trip…

Dead Rhetoric: What do you remember about the early movements within The Summoned – would you consider the development and direction of the band as organic or were there natural growing pains to get to a defined style and outlook?

Shaun Murphy: That’s actually a really good question, When we first started out doing The Summoned we were originally a thrashy, kind of metalcore-ish band, right before we decided to become the The Summoned. When we initially changed the name and changed the style, we were all getting more into death metal. We were all getting into Decapitated and digging the early The Black Dahlia Murder stuff. And I was hugely influenced by Death, so that was heavily prevalent in our early sound. And then we have organically grown over the years – as we listen to new stuff, as it comes and we discover things (they) become a new influence to us.

Where we went from the Harvest EP which still had a pretty heavy, straight forward almost metal core sound to it- for lack of a better term it’s pretty much deathcore- when we made the progression to the first album If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures, we all started to get into more progressive forms of music. We already had begun to grow into that- and with the new release we have evolved and grown musically. We have grown to love a lot of different styles of technical music- I listen to a lot of jazz, progressive, technical metal like Blotted Science and Spastic Ink- the list is huge. The stuff I listen to on my end, from everything to everything else, very much a mixed bag.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel your debut EP Harvest turned out – what takeaways do you have about the recording sessions and final product?

Murphy: That was a big a learning curve for a lot of us. I was young, it was probably our first real recording experience. I was 18, so that was my first real recording experience where we tracked everything. Granted, it was in a home studio with somebody else, but we had an engineer. At the time, I definitely enjoyed that learning experience. The final product, it’s good. I was never really super satisfied with the way the EP came out, but we also weren’t honed in as musicians, it was our first release and we didn’t really know necessarily what we were doing- to the point where we got the best sound that we could have gotten. We actually ended up recording a demo and our first full-length with the same guy, and those experiences were much better than the first.

Dead Rhetoric: In the interim before your debut full-length If Only Minds Could Paint Pictures came out in 2011, you worked on a three-song demo for 2009. Any specific reasons behind this – was it weighing on the band’s minds the break between recordings, or did you want to test the waters before recording the full-length?

Murphy: With the demo recording, we had begun to write songs that would appear on the full-length. Those were “Dreaming in 2D”, “Anatomy of a Bar Fight”, and “Voids” – and those 3 songs were the first ones to make it to the record. We had a couple of other tunes at the time but those never made it to the record. When we decided to do the demo, we felt that we needed material to show people what our change had become. If you listen to the EP and then the demo, there’s a big difference- more of a death metal edge, and a progressive edge. We played the Harvest stuff for a year and a half to two years, we started writing new material and that new material was more reflective of what we were doing at the time. We felt like we wanted to show people- a lot of people really dug it, so we started writing more new material and went into the studio in 2010 and released that album in 2011.

Dead Rhetoric: And how do you feel about that debut album now in retrospect? Did you make more strides in improving the songwriting and recording processes?

Murphy: Yes, I definitely think so. Especially when we were in it, and living it. We had a better understanding of writing and a better grasp of playing our instruments. When we went in, it was a banged-out session. Drums were done in a day or two, guitars were done in two or three days, vocals were done in a small day session, and bass was done in a day. So it was quick, we fired right through it. I don’t think it shows on the record that it was fired through like that, it’s definitely well-recorded and well produced. Fred Sladkey who had recorded that album, did a solid job with that, especially all the engineering he put into it. He didn’t do a whole lot of producing, as we went in there with what we had and that’s what we recorded.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve done two East Coast tours, toured Canada, and opened for some prominent artists in the heavy/extreme scene. Describe The Summoned live, and what have you learned most about the road that refines and reshapes the band?

Murphy: That’s a good question. Us live is kind of like the music itself- it’s controlled chaos. We are pretty nutty live, we don’t really jump off of stuff and go The Dillinger Escape Plan crazy, but there’s that element of the grind and noise style of playing where we don’t care about what’s going (around) on stage. We all just get really into a zone with the music, and let it take us on a ride live. That’s how I would describe our performance. We aren’t a band that when you go and see us you would be really bored watching us play. The music is very technical, and there’s a lot of guitar riffs and a lot of technical guitar playing. There’s room to screw up by moving around too much. We’ve honed our craft to be able to still put on a really good show and sound really good, and not let that effect how the auditory product comes across.

Definitely with being on the road, you learn how to do this every night. With lack of sleep and a couple of drinks, you figure out how to be amped and ready to go. That’s a learning thing, you can’t just go on stage and do that without knowing it. You live it. I think that being on the road taught us how to play better together, made us tighter. The idea that we have of showing the music and how it makes us feel plus how we react to it definitely gets more and more embedded as you play it every night and play it to different people. Not really caring about what other people’s perceptions of you are while you are playing is huge and paramount.

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