Allegaeon – Hailing ScienceSunday, 4th September 2016
Allegaeon’s third album, Elements of the Infinite, finally seemed to bring them a bit more well deserved recognition in the metal community. For good reason – it was a sonic step-up and showcased songwriting improvements that led to even tighter riffage. The band also seemed to finally grab a tour-ready and stable line-up and were able to get out and support the album. They hit a few tours, then longtime front man Ezra Haynes parted ways with the band. A huge blow for the band, but much tension was alleviated when Riley McShane (formerly of Son of Aurelius and Inanimate Existence, among others) stepped up to fill-in.
Allegaeon’s upcoming album, Proponent for Sentience, again sees Allegaeon raising the bar for melodic death metal. McShane is a natural fit for the band, offering even more diversity to the band’s sound – which itself has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Few can match the melodic and technical edge that Allegaeon provides, track-by-track. New vocalist Riley McShane was kind enough to chat with us as we went into how he landed the gig, the recently released “Subdivisions” cover, and even what’s to come with Son of Aurelius.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it hard to step into the vocalist role knowing that there were a lot of Allegaeon fans that really dug Ezra [Haynes]?
Riley McShane: It was definitely daunting. I feel like it would be with any band – taking over the frontman position is never an easy task. There’s always going to be a margin of people who aren’t really feeling it. It’s a change. But my goal has been to gain more fans than fans that are lost. I tried to not stray too far from the Allegaeon style, while still adding in my own flavor to the mix. It was daunting at first, but I feel that now that a year has gone by I am more comfortable with the role. We’ve gotten enough positive feedback from the releases of the singles to feel that it was a good decision.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think with being involved with two tours prior to the release gave enough initial exposure? So people got a chance to hear how you sounded before the new material came out…
McShane: Yeah, definitely. The first little run we did was done before the change was solidified and the next one – the Act of Defiance run – many more people knew that I was going to be there for keeps. I feel like more people were kind of listening on that tour, and I had people coming up to me almost every night…hat in hand, saying “hey I thought this was going to suck, but good job. I’m stoked.” I think those tours definitely helped, for the people who are dedicated enough to the band to come out to shows, it made a positive impact.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you actually come about joining the band?
McShane: Greg [Burgess] is a big fan of the work I did with Son of Aurelius. When Ezra was going through some personal stuff and had to back out of the mini-run tour last year, Greg hit me up as a friend-to-friend kind of thing. Son of Aurelius did a podcast thing that Greg appeared on before, and we were all kind of buds before any of this transpired. So he hit me up to fill in on the tour, and shortly afterwards, the split between Ezra and the rest of the band happened. So Greg contacted me, along with a few other people, to throw in some auditions. But I think that he kind of knew what he wanted for the band from the get-go. He told me that I didn’t have the best audition, but he knew what I could do with Son of Aurelius and said fuck it and took the risk. Hopefully it pays off [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: Given Allegaeon’s penchant for scientific lyrics, do you feel you got to put your own stamp on them this time?
McShane: I’ve always been interested in different fields of science, and different schools of thought that have emerged from more recent scientific discoveries. I’ve haven’t done much normal study of any one particular field, but it’s been something I’ve been enamored by. So being able to write on those topics…what was interesting about this album is that there’s a huge concept, but it maintains a root in scientific theories and ideas. It was challenging, in a fun and interesting way to be able to write to the concept, while still incorporating other ideas about science and philosophy.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you go into some of the thoughts behind the lyrics of the album, I know some of it is tied to the 3 laws of robotics…
McShane: Right – the three Sentience songs (“The Conception,” “The Algarithm,” “The Extermination”) all serve as punctuation marks at the beginning, middle, and end of the album. Those are the heavy focus of the actual concept, which is about the classic science fiction of robots/AI coming to consciousness and then deciding based on logical deduction that humans are more of a harm than a help to the planet. We play with the laws of robotics in the second song – that sonata, the chorus kind of addresses those, but more from a angle that now that we have these conscious machines and we have to keep them [in line] and so here’s these three laws that they have to adhere to so that we don’t end up getting wiped out. Which, by the end of the album, just kind of happens anyways because with conscious thought comes rebellion.
The rest of the album serves more as connective tissue between those three points. Between the first and second, you have “All Hail Science,” then a little bit of neuroscience and mechanics and the philosophy of the mind (“Of Mind and Matrix”). Between the second and third, it details a little more social commentary, such as “Demons of an Intricate Design,” and then slightly back towards more philosophy of the mind, but from a different perspective (“Cognitive Computations”), and by the time “The Arbiters” rolls around – those lyrics are more rooted in the machine/mind basically deciding that humanity is kind of shitty. Then “The Extermination” comes in right after that.
Dead Rhetoric: Looking in from an outside perspective up until this this album, how do you feel that the new album compares to the rest of Allegaeon’s discography, other than your own direct contributions?
McShane: What I have always liked about Allegaeon is that you can really hear their progression from album to album. You can really detect a progression in the musicianship. And that is not only present in the new album, but it is by the widest margin thus far. I feel that being able to see progress is much more evident between this one and Elements than it ever has been between albums. I think that is largely in part to the chemistry between Greg and Mike [Stancel]. As songwriters, they have been so locked into their own style, but what would sound best for Allegaeon. They just groove really well together.
Dead Rhetoric: Any stories behind getting Bjorn Strid and Ben Ellis on board for “The Extermination?”
McShane: I know that Ben is a good friend of Greg’s – they are kind of guitar buddies. So I think that was him just asking. I think Greg might do a guest spot on something that Ben is doing as well – so it’s kind of like a trade setup. As far as Bjorn goes, Greg and I were talking up a few vocalists to contact for the clean section. Greg was like, “I love Soilwork, they are one of my favorite bands.” I have never been a super big fan of Soilwork – there’s never been a point where I straight disliked them but I’ve never been affected enough by their music to be like “yeah, fuckin’ Soilwork!” So when that was where the chips kind of fell, I was just like “whatever, I’m sure he’ll do fine.” Then he sent in his tracks and I was like, “holy shit bro, that is amazing!” So I’m really stoked we ended up working with him, despite it all.
Dead Rhetoric: Your cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” was released today. Any reason why that particular song was chosen?
McShane: Originally, Greg had it in mind to cover Deicide’s “When Satan Rules His World.” But given the context of the new album, we felt it would be more apt to cover something more in the realm of progressive rock/metal. We flirted with a few ideas – we were going to cover a Cynic song or a Yes song. But there were disagreements with individual members, but once “Subdivisions” was brought up, we all agreed it would be a good choice. It doesn’t really tie into the album at all, but it does kind of show what Allegaeon is going for, as far as developing melodically as a band. We are still going to be pumping out good old death metal forever, but we kind of wanted to show, not necessarily that we could do it, but that is what we are interested in as musicians. We appreciate the dynamic and the performance of Rush – it sounds so simple from a listening perspective, but from a performance perspective it is really difficult to capture those dynamics. In doing so, we are opening a window a little bit wider of what people might expect from Allegaeon in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: Were you concerned that some people might be turned off by the more rock-ish cover and full clean vocals?
McShane: Yeah, but at the same time…it’s Rush. The blurb that Metal Injection posted about it, saying something along the lines of like, “how often do you get death metal bands covering songs that are just blast beats and growling leading up to an identifiable chorus so you know it’s the song.” We wanted to avoid that at all costs. We knew that people were going to be like, “oh god, clean vocals…what is this” kind of thing. On the same token, it’s a Rush song – we aren’t going to add a bunch of death metal elements that take away from why the original was so good. We definitely were weary of the fact, but indifferent to the response. We know that those people that are going to be upset about the fact that there are clean vocals just going to have to accept the fact that it’s just a cover and just a Rush song. We are still a death metal band. But I think it will, like I said already, open a wider window to what Allegaeon is all about. The people that we are appealing to with this cover will be much more of a gain than a loss, comparatively to the people that are deterred by it.
Dead Rhetoric: Along with the clean vocal thing, knowing what you did with Son of Aurelius…is that an angle that you would like to use with Allegaeon in the future? I know there are a few spots on the new album…
McShane: It’s not a point of conflict, but Greg really wants to move forward with lots of cleans and melodic sections in future songs. I’m a little hesitant…if it’s done tastefully and intermittently enough, it could be really good and help shape Allegaeon’s sound. I don’t want it to be anything similar to what I experienced with Son of Aurelius, where so many people were like, “you should have just changed your band name,” having such a hard left turn where it’s not welcomed by the fanbase. So there’s that. We do plan to incorporate more little melodic clean sections in the next few albums, but at what frequency is kind of up for debate.
Dead Rhetoric: Given your gig with Allegaeon, any chance that Son of Aurelius will put out any more material?
McShane: We are kind of on an indefinite hiatus. It’s not that we don’t want to work with each other anymore, but there are factors in each member’s lives that are preventing us from pursuing anything musically right now. That kind of started before Under a Western Sun was released – we all got to a point in our lives where we couldn’t tour often and we couldn’t take the necessary steps to make an album that would not only see the light of day, but succeed. That was really important for us when we went in to make Under a Western Sun, but between the inception and the release, things just kind of changed. We weren’t able to pursue it with as much gung-ho as we should have. I think that hasn’t really changed too much. I’m sure the time will come when the guitar player, Cary [Geare], will hit me up and say, “Hey I just wrote a bunch of songs – let’s do some stuff.” When that happens, I’ll be stoked and we’ll definitely go forward with it. But if and when that happens is completely up to God [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: That’s too bad, I was definitely one of the people that just loved that album.
McShane: Yeah, I was super proud of it when it came out. But I understand the lash-back from the fanbase.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s good that you can see that though, and be able to apply those ideas to Allegaeon…
McShane: I definitely don’t want an repeat experience with that. Especially since Allegaeon is so much more of an established band than Son of Aurelius when I joined. It would be such a shame to sink that ship by making some bad vocal decisions [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You jumped right in with the rest of the band in terms of their interactions on Facebook – is the personal touch something that bands need to be more aware of in this day and age?
McShane: Social media is a huge part of, not only marketing, but a huge part of being able to have direct contact and relations with fans of your music. When it comes down to it, we are just a bunch of dudes that love metal. So being able to identify that and interact with that community from the standpoint of someone who is contributing to it, is super important to me. Like you said, it’s the personal touch – the more bands that are out there just shooting the shit with their fans on Facebook/Twitter/whatever…I feel a tighter-knit community is going to be produced by it.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve got the Return to Roots tour, Ozzfest vs. Knotfest…what else is going on with Allegaeon before the end of the year?
McShane: We’ve got one other tour that hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t go into details, but it will be going on in the November/December time period. It should be getting announced sometime soon here, either September or October. But yeah, Return to Roots is going to be awesome playing with such influential dudes in the metal scene and Ozzfest is a dream come true – it’s going to be a blast. It’s going to be a pretty busy year from this point out for Allegaeon, so stay posted as announcements come to light.