Benthic Realm – Open the Vessel

Thursday, 29th June 2023

Nothing sounds quite as emotionally liberating as well-crafted doom metal. The right combination of hefty riffs bolstered by pounding bass and crushing drums – allowing the vocals to tantalize or mesmerize to a deeper level of being. Benthic Realm from Massachusetts are a power trio content on keeping this movement alive and kicking – their first full-length album Vessel an hour-long odyssey into the cavernous spaces that the genre can take you, overflowing with creative power to be executed in stellar, capable hands.

We were able to speak with all three members of the band – guitarist/vocalist Krista Van Guilder, bassist/keyboardist Maureen Murphy, and drummer Dan Blomquist – about the stop/start process in making Vessel, working at Sonic Titan Studios with Anthony Medaglia, lyrical themes, the pivotal moments that came in childhood for each member when it came to their respective instruments, what life will be like post-pandemic for shows, and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Vessel is the first full-length for Benthic Realm – five years after the last EP We Will Not Bow. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material – and where do you see the differences in this record style-wise or performance-wise versus your last effort?

Krista Van Guilder: Let’s see. Obviously, we had a pandemic that happened, that kind of put our plans on hold. We were supposed to go into the studio in 2020, and the pandemic happened. We were in the process of writing for the album, and everything went on hold. We weren’t sure what was happening. It kept going longer and longer, and we didn’t end up practicing until the following summer 2021. I personally did not feel inspired, even though I know a lot of people were very prolific. I just was not, I was working a lot, partially working from home and then fully working from home. I was exhausted, and with the state of things I didn’t feel like playing or writing. Once the vaccine came out, we felt comfortable enough to get together again and it was amazing how much I missed these guys and I needed to have them around in order to feel inspired. From that point on, we picked up steam to get this going and finish writing for the album.

So, some of this stuff was actually written before the pandemic, and then I would say some (songs) were written after the pandemic. That’s how this all panned out.

Maureen Murphy: I think if we had gone into the studio prior to the pandemic, this just would have been another EP release, a shorter effort.

Van Guilder: We were trying for a full-length, but it wasn’t fully written.

Murphy: I remember on March 16, 2020 – I was driving up to get ready to do shows with three different bands. Then no bands were able to play. Not that I remember or anything (laughs).

Van Guilder: We were thinking of recording over the summer. It would have been a very different album had we not had a pandemic. In terms of writing, how this differs – I feel like me being able to take a break during that time, the break and then being able to get back together with these guys reinvigorated me to want to drive forward. We were writing some good stuff after that – it came together fairly quickly. I’d write some riffs, bring them down, we would turn it into a song. It all gelled quickly.

Dead Rhetoric: This was the first time you had worked at Sonic Titan Studios with Anthony of Graviton – he has a lot of seasoning as a musician, how did things work out with him?

Dan Blomquist: He’s great. We’ve all had different walks through life and through music. Each engineer or tech brings something different to the fold. I couldn’t be happier with what Anthony brought to the fold for us. His demeanor was very constant – he was very supportive, very engaged. As you said, his skill level is really impressive.

Murphy: It was a little surreal almost because I grew up listening to Atheist, loved them – and found out he was drumming for them. He’s since stepped away, but he’s very impressive. He had a fantastic ear – and I have to be honest, when he sent us the first draft / mix, it’s the best first mix I’ve ever got, period. In all of my band experiences – I was like wow, look at him go.

Blomquist: Obviously from a drumming standpoint, he’s a great ace to have up your sleeve. I go into a studio, and I know what I hear behind the kit is completely different than what comes into the microphone. He’s a drummer himself, he knows his equipment and how it sounds. I opened myself up to him for what we would need to make things sound the best, he was gracious with every step of it. He was never condescending; he was totally into it.

Van Guilder: He put us at ease, really quickly. He was super supportive, took the time to set stuff up. I was so impressed with how quickly we were able to dial in the guitar tones, to where they needed to be so we could just start tracking.

Dead Rhetoric: Is there a song or two that was the main catalyst or driving force in the atmosphere or tone for Vessel? To me, tracks like “Traitors Amongst Us” and “What Lies Beneath” really say so much about the versatility of the record…

Murphy: I would almost even say the title track because I can remember before the pandemic, it had a swing to it that wasn’t as present in some of the older stuff. It hooked onto me, and I started to play differently. That kind of opening up there was with “Traitors…” too. It demanded different things from me.

Van Guilder: In terms of “Traitors Amongst Us” and “What Lies Beneath”. “Traitors…” we had written pre-pandemic, we had actually played that out live a couple of times. “What Lies Beneath” came out after the pandemic, we started playing together and that song was written. The songs present themselves to me, and I go with it. When I bring stuff down to Dan and Maureen, they start to really craft it, hone it into being. It had the Benthic Realm sound, but we are not afraid to play into different areas to shift where we feel the song needs to go to. To play off of each other for that. I may play a riff and have a thought of how the tempo should be, and Dan will start playing and take it in a whole new direction and make things so much cooler than what was originally envisioned. We let the songs take shape. We were pleased that with all of the songs, we didn’t feel like we had any duds.

I will say “Veil Embraced”, that is one of the oldest tunes that we had. It was the first or second song that Benthic Realm had written when we first started. We had played it when Brian was in the band previously – but live, I always felt it was missing something. When we wanted to add one more song to the roster for this album, the others brought up this song. I envisioned more keyboards for the song – Maureen did an amazing job writing those parts; it took the song to a whole new level. This was the album that needed to happen, and it took a pandemic for us to get it to where it ended up.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the lyrics, you said some songs were written pre-pandemic and others after the pandemic. Did the pandemic have an effect on some of the latter songs, or were you inspired by personal events that happened in your life?

Van Guilder: It spans the gamut. I can’t really pinpoint specifically when it’s about one thing or the other. “As It Burns” was inspired after Russia attacked Ukraine. You couldn’t believe this was happening in this day and age, seeing all this footage and these people suffering. People trying to live normal lives like us, and having to run for shelter because a bomb is coming through their window. Out of that, I wrote that song. It’s not a war is a good thing (track), everyone is suffering, we keep repeating that cycle, and no one ends up winning. The song came together quickly, it was a powerful song to encapsulate how this can’t be the way. I tend to pull inspiration from stuff that’s happening around me, in the news, books I’ve read. “Summon the Tide” I envisioned about a goddess who is alone and lonely, at the end – rather than taking herself out, she decides to take everyone with her. A fictious story, something that came to me one day. “Veil Embraced” was inspired by the movie Mama, I find that movie terrifying.

I just try to be open to everything around me. And then when I sit down to write, it just shows up.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of the doom scene locally across New England versus the national / global scale? Do you believe these are active, fruitful times – especially given the many subsets of doom now established?

Murphy: I think so. I don’t know if I’m qualified to compare the local scene to the global scene, but there are more and more bands coming out of here. For a few years ago, there were bands that were good, and now their newest material is just amazing. I’m pretty excited, there is a lot of diversity. Just look at our rehearsal space alone, pretty much everyone is playing doom with very different flavors.

Blomquist: There’s no happy music in there, that’s for sure (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: How do you believe you handled the downtime from the pandemic, especially when it comes to lack of live performance activities? Do you think it’s going to be more of a challenge for people to regain focus with social interactions in person, and present possible long-term mental health complications if not dealt with appropriately?

Blomquist: The quick easy answer is yes. Everything has been impacted by it. Like Krista said before, did I take advantage of the time and use it to my fullest? No, I could have done more.

Murphy: The scene will definitely come back. You will see a lot of thirties and up bands maybe throwing in the towel. I think the lack of rewards, add in COVID, venues didn’t push through. The music will still be there, new bands will appear, there have been amazing shows.

Blomquist: There’s been a big surge of shows. I have been to quite a few ragers in the last month and a half or so. It’s like the pandemic never happened in terms of being at a show. Everyone is hip to hip, sharing sweat and spit. The stuff that you go to see shows for.

Dead Rhetoric: What is a pivotal or critical moment that helped shape your musical career?

Murphy: If you want to go way back with me, I started on piano. And then I was in a car accident and couldn’t play, someone gave me a bass. I thought that was pretty easy, I can do this. It’s all been downhill from there. A silver lining, I suppose.

Blomquist: In my family, most of us were musically inclined. I grew up in a family where my mother and father were both concert violinists. I too started with piano. I went through a bunch of band instruments like saxophone, trombone, French horn. I settled on the drums once my teen years set in. I had a seed planted from birth, but the pivotal seed was when I became an angry teenager and found the drums, that was a good outlet that I stuck with.

Van Guilder: I picked up the guitar when I was twelve. My mom tried to teach me when I was eight, but when you are eight, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the acoustic guitar just were not very appealing. I picked up the guitar again at twelve when I discovered rock music, and never looked back. I tried to form a band when I was fourteen, and I’ve always written, I took guitar lessons, and one of my guitar teachers encouraged me to write my own stuff. I wrote a song, shared it with him the next week, and he was impressed. It came naturally to me to be able to do that.

For this band, this culmination of this group, it’s a very inspiring thing to be a part of. There’s no drama. We work so well together, we love to make music, write music, play and hang out. It becomes bigger than all of us, it’s the best feeling on the planet. That’s a big moment for us, getting back together and getting these songs together. We want to listen to this.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there specific things you enjoy about the power trio format for Benthic Realm?

Murphy: I enjoy having a little more freedom than in a typical set up. It’s more challenging in a lot of ways to be a little busier without getting in the way. I can control my voicings as well.

Van Guilder: We cheat a little bit for the recordings. We do more guitar tracks to beef it up a little bit. It’s more of a live versus what you can do in the studio kind of thing. It’s silly not to take advantage of more layers, but you do what you want when you play it live. We can sort of navigate differently. With a second guitar player, while I miss the harmonies and playing off of that, with a three-piece you can be more freeform with things and go off of that.

Blomquist: It’s nice and loose. We jam, we swing it together. It has a nice, loose, relaxed feel to it. When it’s structured, you feel boxed in. Not for nothing, Maureen does a great job carrying the load with Krista when she’s doing a lead, she fills all the space well, and tastefully as well.

Dead Rhetoric: How much of a challenge is it for you Dan as the drummer in a doom band to play tastefully at slow paces in a tight format?

Blomquist: A little bit. I have a pre-disposition to play faster. But these two are great at keeping the reigns on me. It’s more for me to be colorful without being overly repetitive, to play the same tempo over and over again. It’s easy for me to be creative if I’m playing something more upbeat. I have been playing at a slower pace more though than I ever did when I was playing faster. It’s my pocket that I am comfortable in. I try not to overplay. This music lends itself more to less is more spaces.

Dead Rhetoric: And it seems like Krista you decided to add more some extreme vocals on this release – are you feeling more comfortable expressing that side of your voice?

Van Guilder: Yes. I want to do it strategically to emphasize something, add it where it needs to be, rather than say every song has to have this. I don’t like to follow the same formula every single time I do something. If the song feels like it needs that part, it needs that part. “Traitors Amongst Us” is slightly different. Normally I would be adding in the death metal growls at the beginning or for a verse, but this time I did it for the whole chorus. It felt like the right thing to do. It’s not too much, and it’s not in every single song. I feel confident with the delivery on that.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities related to Benthic Realm in the next twelve months or so? Are there any specific bucket list items or goals you would like to check off and achieve that haven’t been done as of yet?

Van Guilder: We are very much focused on things for July. We have two shows coming up, CD release shows. We haven’t booked anything else outside of that, but we are totally open to different things.

Blomquist: We are happy to get this album put together and finally ready. We haven’t spent a ton of time pounding the pavement, looking for shows. We know the reach of the digital age right now; it will go as far as it can go.

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