Outer Heaven – Entering Decaying RealmsFriday, 26th October 2018
So many death metal bands and so little time. Such is the way of the world, and it takes some conscious effort for a band to set themselves apart from the crowd. Be it a stage performance, the way that they cross their influences into something different, or even some sort of gimmick. In the case of Outer Heaven, no gimmicks need apply with their brash and captivating approach. Grabbing some more obscure influences (as opposed to say, citing Entombed for the 10,000th time) the band has built up a following in recent years, culminating with the release of their first full-length album, Realms of Eternal Decay.
An exciting release that in a genre where many attempt to simply retread the footsteps in front of them, Outer Heaven pushes the boundaries while providing the energy and substance required. We had a chat with vocalist Austin Haines just prior to the release of the album to catch us up to speed on their name, having a few smaller releases under their belt before releasing a full-length, and what he applies to the band’s release as an avid record collector.
Dead Rhetoric: Is the name of the band a Metal Gear Solid reference?
Austin Haines: Yes it is. A lot of people ask that, and I’m curious if it references anything else. That’s the only thing I ever knew. When we started the band, we had the intention of having the whole band being Metal Gear themed, as kind of a joke. At that time, our guitarist Jon [Kunz] was already in a full-time touring band [Rivers of Nihil]. This was going to be for fun, and we like video games and Metal Gear, so that’s how it started. As we continued to write music for the band, the music ended up being really good so we decided that it shouldn’t be too much of a joke [laughs], and maybe the songs could be something.
Dead Rhetoric: I think there’s a lot of cross-over between video games and heavy metal in terms of being fans of both.
Haines: Yeah, and the games touch on a lot of the aspects I like that are in a lot of metal – sci fi, fantasy, horror – that’s a big part of our lyrical content and imagery, so it wraps up into one big package.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that going through a number of smaller releases have allowed you to hone in your sound prior to releasing a full-length?
Haines: Definitely. Like I said before, in the beginning our guitar player already had a full-time band going and they toured about half the year each year. So for the first two years in Outer Heaven, we didn’t do a ton – just played shows when he was free, because I actually went out on tour with them handling merch and things like that. We did Outer Heaven stuff in the beginning when we could. So we got off to a slow start, which is why it might seem weird that we have been around for five years and only starting to pick up some steam. But we really have been only going full-force for about two or three years.
Those early releases, we did a demo in the time period when we were taking it slow and easy, and the EP was right on the tail end of that. When Jon left his other band and we decided to do Outer Heaven more seriously, we started to focus on playing more shows and writing new music, and that’s when we got hooked up with a lot of our buddies, like Gatecreeper, Scorched, Homewrecker – bands like that. That’s how we ended up doing the 4-way split, and then we did the single right before the record. It all sort of went towards talking to labels and getting ourselves out there and working towards the album.
Dead Rhetoric: What did you enjoy about doing those splits and EPs at the band’s start?
Haines: We kind of wanted to stay relevant by not going too long without releasing new music. We wanted to be working on something at all times. The album was actually finished being written, and we booked studio time before we even nailed anything down with a label. We just decided that no one had taken a bite yet, so we decided to go in and record the album. We had sent demos around to a lot of labels, and a number of them got back to us, but no one had stepped forward and said they would sign us. We talked to a lot of labels here – Season of Mist, 20 Buck Spin, Relapse, Blood Harvest. They were all really nice about it – it just wasn’t the right time, etc.
So we recorded the album and got it ready to go, and then we thought we could pass that around once we had a finished product, and then maybe someone would work with us. Relapse had always been a label we talked to on and off, probably over a year before we signed with them. Their main office is in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, which is only 30-40 minutes from where we live. A lot of the guys had been to our shows and had met us personally so I think that’s a big reason why they took the jump at us. Those smaller releases helped us to figure out what was best in doing releases in the first place. We learned a lot from that, and we were able to take all that knowledge and put it into the album so it could hit as hard as it has been.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you approach things differently this time because it was a full-length effort?
Haines: Yeah, somewhat. Our writing process was always the same. The only thing that was major, was that on all of the releases up to the album, we only had one guitar player. Jon had been our only guitar player. When we brought in Zak Carter on second guitar, it was while we were writing the album, and he contributed a lot to it. It was nice to have his style of writing/playing thrown into the mix of what we normally do. It took some of the weight off of Jon, and helped us get a more well-rounded sound for the album. I attribute having a second guitar player to a lot of the success in the songwriting of the album.
Dead Rhetoric: So what do you feel makes you stand out among a growing crop of death metal bands?
Haines: We have always tried to be different – from our artwork to our shirts to our recording/songwriting. We try to take a different approach with the purpose of standing out a little bit more. Even when it came down to our last music video that came out [“Putrid Dwelling”] – when is the last time you saw a video like that? It’s different – Relapse presented us with a lot of options and that was the one that stood out to us the most. So we decided to do things on our own terms. We’ve always been more DIY in our approach. In starting everything off as a band, it was all DIY, and it just kind of stuck with us. I think it helps us stand out in a different way from a lot of bands and doing things in a different way than people might do normally.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned the video and I wanted to talk to you about that one specifically. Other than having it stand out a bit, what else drew you towards making “Putrid Dwelling” the way you did?
Haines: Relapse had laid out some people that they had worked with in the past for some videos with other bands, and Marcos Morales had done a lot of stuff for Primitive Man, and he works closely with them on a lot of their videos. I like his regular videos with the actors, because they were super trippy and out-there. They weren’t too ‘try-hard’ or anything – trying to tell a story that doesn’t come across well like a lot of videos do.
We pursued him a little further and he gave us a few styles he did. He told us the newest thing he was doing was animation and he sent a snippet of an animation he was working on for his own band. We knew that this guy had an eye for what we like, with the trippiness and obscurity, so we decided to give him free rein on the animation side. The only thing we did give him was a rough idea of what I wanted to see, in terms of a story. It’s not a long song, so for that reason the content of the video isn’t vast, but it tells exactly what I asked for, which is exactly what the song is about. He also did a great job of having it play off of our album art, which was a big selling point as well. He really hit the nail on the head for us.
Dead Rhetoric: The album has an older sound, but it’s not totally entrenched there like you see with a lot of bands. What draws you towards an older sound?
Haines: It’s just a mix of influences. We love old school death metal, we love technical death metal – not tech death – but bands like Demilich or Gorguts, things like that. It’s something we all enjoy listening to, so we blended some of those strongest influences: Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Demilich, and Gorguts, and tried to do something different. Blending those two aspects of death metal into one thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What inspires you about the current death metal scene?
Haines: In terms of new bands, there’s tons of amazing bands that are playing those [older] styles and doing it amazingly well. Bands like Scorched, Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice – they are playing the music so well that they can’t be ignored. It’s musicianship as well as songwriting ability. It makes the bands stand out so much more than others. There are bands in every corner of the world that are absolutely crushing and they are amazing. You have to find a way to stick out, which is why we do what we do. We have to do something different and we will always do something different than everyone is trying to do. In my opinion, there aren’t a lot of bands that are trying to do what we are doing. It’s a late era Morbid Angel worship and early Gorguts mixture, which is cool. We use that to stand out.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw you are a record collector from a recent interview. What do you look at in terms of Outer Heaven to make them appeal to you, as a collector?
Haines: At Relapse, they have one specific person, Drew, who deals with the physical releases of the music. He works with you and sends you vinyl colors or things that would work well with the album art, or whatever ideas you are trying to get across. He works with layouts on the record too. When it came down to it, our album art was basically a full front and back panel of a record sleeve. It was folded over to be the front and back of a record. When the finished album art came in, everyone was super hyped up about it so I said that I would love to see it in a gatefold so people could pop it open and get the full layout of the album art. I had a lot of ideas for inside the gatefold as well, and a lot of that was coming from what I love about my records I own and would love to see myself.
Relapse was really receptive and helpful when it came down to giving us what we wanted. They didn’t have to take those chances on us. I know it was a little more expensive and it was our first record, and we are new to the label. But they took the risk with us and I think it has really paid off. We have moved a lot of records so far, and I think it’s going to continue, especially through the tour we have coming up with Full of Hell.
I’m expecting to see a lot of records go. We [had] a record release party and I made some special 3D covers for the album art that work with 3D glasses that are special to the release show. There’s only like 20 copies, but that’s something I love to see. Something cool and unique. 3D covers have been done before, but no one in my immediate circle has done it in a while. So I went in and learned about how to make the cover and have certain aspects pop out with the glasses. That’s stuff I like to see on records, so I try to use it on our records.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw you guys play a while back for the Rivers of Nihil Monarchy release show, and something that stood out then was how intense it was on stage. Is that something that you are trying to portray as well?
Haines: Always. That’s been one of the biggest compliments about the band – people always talk about the live show. That was a big point in recording the new record. Getting that intensity that you get from a live show. We try to be intense and push the boundaries live and just really push as far as we can go. That show, if I remember correctly, was a half-decent show for us. In Reading, you don’t have a lot of death metal bands. You have us, you have Rivers, and you have Black Crown Initiate when they want to play shows. You have one decent one venue as well, with Reverb. We get in there when we can, and keep it intense as much as we can.
Dead Rhetoric: Just to wrap things up, what is going on with the band in the near future?
Haines: We have the tour with Full of Hell, which is to promote the album release. We are doing like 12 days with them. We go down into Florida and do some of the east coast. We are talking with some booking companies. All of our booking has been done DIY and now that we have more on our plate, some people have stepped forward with booking. We talked to Ethan from Primitive Man and he books for the Heavy Talent Group and he is working on a few things for us next year. A few festivals – Relapse wants to get us to Europe next year and we’ve started to roughly discuss that as well. Anyone that hasn’t seen us, definitely expect to see us in the new year. I can say that much, especially if you are in the US. I definitely see us getting to the west coast really soon.