Dissentience – Unveiling the Mask

Sunday, 7th July 2019

Genre blending seems more ordinary than ever. Thanks to the proliferation of product available on the internet, musicians gain exposure to wider influences and thus increase the ability to siphon those tastes into hopefully a fresher take on a proven formula. Hailing from southeastern Pennsylvania, Dissentience are a quartet of twenty-something players content to create a blistering brand of death/thrash, unafraid to incorporate aspects of groove and extreme metal into the mix depending on the needs and atmosphere of the arrangement at hand. Mask of Pretense is the band’s latest EP, a five-song foray that can signal elements of Revocation or Sepultura one minute, then go into Slayer, Megadeth, or early Death pastures the next.

After witnessing the band slay a western Massachusetts audience on a Friday night, this scribe felt the need to reach out to vocalist/guitarist Connor Valentin to get up to speed on the band’s history. You’ll learn more about their recordings, views on live performances, thoughts on pay to play scenes, and a bit of sci-fi author talk as well as his new guitar pedal company he’s developing.

Dead Rhetoric: Discuss your earliest memories surrounding music growing up in childhood – and when you made the move to heavier material plus the desire to pick up an instrument and start playing/performing in bands?

Connor Valentin: My household was always filled with music as a kid. My dad was in an old hardcore/punk band back in the early 80’s, called The American Dream. So he was into a lot of early stuff, like the early thrash metal scene. My mom was into disco, r+b, some pop music, my grandfather was into jazz, so there was always music around. When (guitarist) Jimmy (Vitale) and I first met, it’s because we both played the saxophone for our first instrument in school bands from elementary school through to high school. That musical background, and then I picked up guitar later, which I wanted to play more with an instrument in line with something that I was listening to.

My dad introduced me to Black Flag, Minor Threat to early Metallica and Pantera, all that good stuff. From there I took off on my own and discovered a lot of new music based on the t-shirts the musicians were wearing and the bands they were thanking in the liner notes of albums. Jimmy and I took guitar lessons from the same guitar teacher as well. His name is Dave Smith, he teaches at a local music shop. It was interesting though because it wasn’t like your typical guitar teacher where you go through a book or you learn your scales. Dave wasn’t like that- he was a nurturing guy that wanted to see you learn the way you want to learn. My first day in my lessons, I brought him a stack of CD’s and said this is what I want to learn how to play – he said okay. We sort of skipped the bullshit and started learning “Enter Sandman” and AC/DC at first so it was simple, but it was still jumping headfirst into (it). The first couple of years I played guitar I feel like I made a lot of strides just because I was having so much fun with it. I don’t necessarily know everything I’m doing, but I still had a lot of fun with it. He definitely brought that out from Jimmy and I – to have fun with what you are playing, and be creative with it.

Dead Rhetoric: Dissentience began in 2013 out of the remnants of another band Why We Fight. What can you tell us about the early development of the group- did you know right away where you wanted to go with the songwriting and style?

Valentin: Jimmy and myself formed Why We Fight back in high school – I think I was a freshman and he was a junior. We started that with a few other friends – Sean Langer came in on bass pretty early on before we played our first shows. The original intent was to make good metal music – we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into anything, and that still rings true. We each have our own different influences and over time evolves. Back in high school we were listening to a little bit more of the metalcore style, most of the first Dissentience demo is Why We Fight material, so you can hear that on the first demo as well.

The big gamechanger for us, we went through a few drummers before we got Nick Scherden in the band. He’s been in the band ever since 2013 when we did the name change. Our previous drummers were good, but Nick just knew his shit – he’s an amazing drummer, super tight and he can do anything we ask him to. Before we had to dumb down parts because our drummers couldn’t play them up to par. Now we can’t write stuff that is hard enough for Nick. That upped our game a little bit. The mission statement of making metal still holds true – although I would say the core of the sound is death/thrash leaning more towards the thrash metal sound.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the first demo the band recorded in 2014 – what do you remember of the songwriting and recording sessions, and how do you feel about this recording now?

Valentin: The first demo, we recorded and wrote it in my basement. My parents were super cool, they let us practice in the house all the time. When my older sister moved out, we sort of took over her old bedroom and made it our jam spot. We had free reign to do whatever we wanted in there. We acquired some recording software and did it all ourselves. The only thing we didn’t do was the drums – we recorded that in a studio in Altoona which is where Nick is from. We took those raw tracks and mixed it all ourselves. It was a learning process.

As far as the songwriting goes, we had a lot of time to mess with the songs. We were all back in high school, so we had nothing else to do. We would jam, and if we weren’t jamming, we were watching the The Black Dahlia Murder DVD’s or the Pantera DVD’s. If we weren’t writing music we were sort of studying it in a way. I look back fondly on that, there are definitely some things I would change but at the end of the day, that demo sort of got us to where we are now. The sound of it isn’t super hot- I have definitely changed my vocal style, I’m a lot better now. Musically it’s totally different, but you can see the building blocks of where we were going to go. “Reckoning Day” is one that we still play live, from time to time, because that was written as we were recording the rest of this, I had the pieces of it lying around. Sent them off to Nick, and all that good stuff – Nick was living in Altoona at the time which is about four hours from Bethlehem, where the rest of us were located- so we didn’t practice a whole lot together. Nick stayed with me for two and a half months one summer, and a whole week the summer before that. That’s really the only time in person we had to go over all these parts. It was an interesting, weird process, but we made it work.

Now Nick is in town, so we can get more stuff done. We would demo everything, send it back and forth, change the fills or transitions. I would not do it like that again. (laughs).

Dead Rhetoric: Why was there such a long gap between that demo and the latest EP release Mask of Pretense in the fall of 2018?

Valentin: We like to take our time. The rest of us were going through college- I actually just graduated in May of this year. Jimmy graduated last year, Sean the year before. We were all busy doing that, and we wanted to work on the songs as much as possible. We tried doing one recording venture in New York that didn’t work out too well. We also started working with Corey Pierce of God Forbid through that – he’s helped us out tremendously. We did pre-production with him and our friend Nick Kashmanian from the band Brand of Julez – they were both awesome. All that takes time – and I feel like in this day and age, a lot of people want stuff very quickly, a lot of bands have this two year turn around time. Revocation, one of my favorite bands, for some time were putting out a record a year- which is ridiculous to me. We don’t mind if it takes a little extra time to get the money together, go through the steps and the process a little bit more, and if it comes out sounding better – we’ll take that time.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences in the EP versus the demo? Were there any specific surprises, obstacles, or challenges that took place during the recording and writing sessions – and why did you choose to go up to New Jersey to record this effort?

Valentin: The choice to record in New Jersey, that was due in part to Corey. God Forbid did a lot of their work at Trax East, as well as a lot of other bands – The Dillinger Escape Plan worked there, The Black Dahlia Murder, a lot of really good stuff. They had a good track record, Eric Rachel is a super awesome dude, we hung out and talked beforehand. We are both gear nerds so we were geeking out the whole time, had some of the same tastes so we were on the same page with a lot of things.

The same thing with going with Alan Douches to master it – he has an awesome track record and Corey hooked us up with him. He did amazing work for us. The biggest difference between the writing process of the demo and the EP- besides the music direction – is pre-production on the EP. That’s something we never took into consideration before, for the demo we just wrote the music and got it to the point where we thought it was done and then said, screw it- let’s put it out. This time around, once we got it to that point, we sat down with Corey and Nick and had some outside ears listen to it. It’s amazing the transformation the songs go through that process, when you actually have some kind of criticism that’s coming in that isn’t from within the band- they aren’t afraid to hold back. The last song on the EP “Synapse Corruption” – the demo version of it was seven and a half minutes long. It was this big “Battery” style, clean intro, big melodic stuff – but it ends up clocking in under three minutes on the EP, it ended up being the shortest song. Which is insane to me, and that happened because of the pre-production process.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did you try to come across lyrically on the EP?

Valentin: Lyrically we like to talk about what we like to talk about. We don’t like to stick to a particular topic – if we think we can write cool lyrics around it, then we can. For some of the stuff, I love reading old Anthrax lyrics where they would take inspiration from Stephen King books and novels, and twist it in their own way. That’s awesome to me, because I’m an avid reader and have a library of material that takes up way too much of my room. One of my favorite authors is this old sci-fi author named Philip K. Dick, he wrote what would later become Blade Runner, and a bunch of others – Minority Report. He just has this really tripped out view of sci-fi, I incorporated that into a couple of songs. Our love for horror movies came into a couple of songs. It’s never so much on our sleeve that you would call it strictly gore lyrics or sci-fi lyrics, it’s more thought provoking than image creating if that makes sense.

Dead Rhetoric: Literature has always been a passion of yours?

Valentin: To some degree. As a kid I loved comic books and chapter books. I’ve fallen into the sci-fi book trap – I love the books, the artwork, all the old 70’s books. It’s honestly the inspiration for a lot of the movies I would watch came from. Blade Runner – I never knew it was a book until one day I read a media article and came across the Philip K. Dick connection. That sent me on the path to find his stuff- and that happens with a lot of other authors too. I like to read the source material.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently had the chance to participate in the Wacken Battle to play at the infamous German metal festival this season – winning the East Coast round but losing at the nationals in California. Describe your views on the experience, and how does this type of Battle differ than most Battle of the Bands situations?

Valentin: The whole experience was awesome. Honestly it was just kind of blind luck – Jimmy was the first one to see an ad for the East Coast Wacken Battle on Facebook. We entered, and we got into the battle. We won both rounds there, which was awesome. Initially the ultimate goal was to play Saint Vitus- because that’s the big East Coast metal bar. And when we saw that the battle was being held there, we decided we had to play there, just to get that connection. When we actually won, it was mind-blowing because we never expected to. There was a lot of great competition- especially on that second date. Somehow the judges thought we were the superior band that night.

Going out to California was a lot of fun too. There was a lot of preparation involved. I wouldn’t do anything differently, that whole trip was a lot of fun. We usually take two cars to shows instead of one, because we don’t have a trailer or anything for our stuff. All four of us being in the same van at the same time, as we rented a van to go to CA, it was a bit of an experience. Playing the Viper Room was surreal, that was just awesome. Legendary bar, awesome people – the rest of the bands were great. Shout out to Monarch the winners, I hope they have a great time at Wacken in Germany.

Watching all the bands that night on stage- if this is what the future of metal looks like in the United States, I think it’s heading in a good direction.

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