CRYPT SERMON – Doom and Gloom in the Garden
Gaining the chance to play with a lot of your heroes in metal is a dream come true for many metal bands. In the case of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Crypt Sermon, they rave at the end of this interview about opening for Grim Reaper and The Skull (featuring ex-Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner). Based on their impressive debut album "Out of the Garden", the quintet is on the right track to etch their name in those legendary ranks.
Receiving excellent reviews for their classic doom style from journalists and fellow musicians alike (Solitude Aeturnus’ John Perez giving kudos), the band aim to prove that you can be musically tasteful and metal without succumbing to the stoner/sludge nuances that penetrate the scene. Their live performance in my area in early July (opening for Gospel of the Witches) took the album’s songwriting to that majestic level, where the riffs, hooks, melodies, and tempos stay in the brain and body forever. Life changing indeed.
So prior to show liftoff I engaged in a chat with lead guitarist Steve Jansson, vocalist Brooks Wilson, and drummer Enrique Sagarnaga, even as the diner’s patrons filtered in and the house music would be cranked to the max.
Describe your personal journey when it comes to music as a child- what steps did you take to eventually move up the ranks into hard rock/ heavy metal, and then what fueled your desire to pick up an instrument and start a band?
Steve: I guess what really got me into playing metal was hearing Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar players. I got into Metallica, the classically trained metal head and it sort of went up from there.
Brooks: I followed skateboarding magazines and I took recommendations out of that. Whatever the crappy upcoming metal of that time was, I just continued to follow punk and metal through that and here I am. I found the good stuff through that.
Enrique: For me it was through mutual friends, there was always that kid at school with the dangerous looking band shirt. You start following that trail of bread crumbs until you get to where you are. It goes from like Slayer to Sepultura to more of the edgier stuff.
Brooks: You just start reading the band albums and liner notes, start picking out band names from there and listening to those acts as well. Then you start to meet other people and form connections through that. It’s the way that people find out about music, social circumstance helps create the dialogue and then there’s stuff that’s classic that will always bring people together- there is always going to be Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden- those types of bands are staples.
Steve: It just took us years to filter out the crap. (laughs)
Enrique: And there is a lot of less than stellar output.
Crypt Sermon started in 2011 as the antithesis of all the sludge/stoner type metal that has popped up over the years – especially dominating the US marketplace. How long did it take to get the current lineup in place, and did you know straight away you wanted to go for a more classic form of doom metal?
Steve: Yes. We have been doing the type of doom that we like, and we wanted to offer something different than all the stoner/sludge stuff that’s going around. If you like that stuff that’s fine but there’s so much of it, we got sick of it. It started off with (guitarist) James (Lipczynski) and I, writing songs on guitar, and Brooks and I had been playing in bands together for years. He started on bass, and then we hit Enrique up as he was a friend of mine but I’d never played in a band with him. When we started writing the songs, we didn’t know what we were going to do along the lines of a singer. Brooks tossed around some ideas.
Brooks: I decided I wanted to do it. I just want to keep getting better at it.
Steve: (Bassist) Will (Mellor) saw us play at a gig, and when Brooks put down the bass to sing, Will asked if he could come audition. Then he showed up the next week at practice and he knew all the songs.
Where do you see the major differences between your "Demo MMXIII" offering and the debut album "Out of the Garden"? At what point in the process did Dark Descent Records come into the picture offering you a deal?
Steve: Dark Descent came into the picture immediately when we put the demo up online. Brooks and I are in a death metal band called Trenchrot, it’s on Unspeakable Axe Records, a sub-label of Dark Descent. Brooks sent the Crypt Sermon demo to Eric of Unspeakable Axe, and Eric said we should really send this to Matt at Dark Descent. The day after we sent it to Matt, he got in touch with us. The demo… in the early stages of writing it was James and I on guitar, we didn’t know who else we would be working with. We had no band, in that regard it was aimless. As we continued to write for "Out of the Garden", we started gelling as a band fairly quick. It was a little more focused, we knew what we wanted to sound like.
Is songwriting an easy or difficult process? And how conscious are you of developing dynamics in a genre that is known for longer arrangements and slower tempos?
Steve: The writing, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a total pain in the ass. Either James or I will write a song and bring it to practice, sometimes Brooks does this to- or other times we will work on it together.
Brooks: You wrote a song at home and that song was done. James wrote a song at home, came with it and that was also done. I wrote a song at home as well. But for four out of the seven tracks, we worked on them as a group. And there is no one approach that works better- every song we were all on the same page about what the good elements of a song are.
Steve: And it was important to have a well-rounded palate, if one person wrote all the songs it would start to get samey. We sort of change it up, it adds more variety.
Brooks: Furthermore, I don’t think we are tied down to just slow tempos. We aren’t slowest band in the world, it’s not a competition.
So there seems to be a bit of misunderstanding regarding the Biblical/ Christian oriented themes in some of the lyrics and whether that puts Crypt Sermon into a Christian metal category. Here is your chance to set the record straight for the readers…
Brooks: We’ll probably not ever admit one way or the other. The thing is it’s strange that there is any controversy, because you can look at the lyrics and figure it out. That’s why I don’t consider it important to answer in an interview. It’s a lot of fun not to answer that question.
Steve: We aren’t the first band to do this.
Enrique: Plus look at the label we are on. It raises a lot of eyebrows in different camps.
Steve: We’ve even gotten e-mails from people, we just get a kick out of it.
Brooks: I’m just hoping that someday someone asks us to sign their Bible (laughs).
Steve: I guess we are on a Christian music database, something ridiculous.
How often has Crypt Sermon been able to play out live? Has your local area been very accepting of your sound- as I would imagine you stick out like a sore thumb in a sub-genre that’s more prevalent in Europe than North America?
Steve: As far as what we are like live, we go out and try to do the best that we can. For us, with the local scene we’ve done pretty well. What we are doing isn’t that extreme, we’ve played shows with punk rock bands and their fans have stuck around, that’s cool.
Enrique: We try not to play out every weekend.
Brooks: The shows are really limited.
Enrique: And we try to do that on purpose to not put our names in front of people’s faces over and over again because they’ll get sick of seeing us.
Brooks: It’s hard to book that many shows. We’ve got lives outside of the band, and it’s not making us a lot of money. We are just doing the best we can, playing as often as time permits.
Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus of course would be two easy reference points stylistically to compare for Crypt Sermon. What aspects do you like about both bands, and what would you consider the pinnacle albums from both bands or does it change depending on the given day?
Brooks: I like "Through the Darkest Hour" by Solitude Aeturnus the best.
Steve: I’m inclined to agree.
Brooks: I can’t even begin to pick a favorite Candlemass album. At least the first three are absolutely perfect- I even love the Robert Lowe albums, I like "Chapter VI".
Enrique: People compare you to him too… Thomas Vikström.
Brooks: And I am very happy about that. I really like Thomas’ vocals.
Steve: And some days it’s "Into the Depths of Sorrow" as a Solitude Aeturnus favorite. As far as Candlemass, I would say "Tales of Creation" is my go to. That was my first album, some days it can be "Nightfall".
Have you started formulating ideas and riffs for the second album? Do you see Crypt Sermon expanding horizons on future albums or are you fairly content with the direction the band is going in?
Steve: James wrote a song and I have a song, but we haven’t really picked them around as a band. We are going to wait until the fall and then buckle down writing for the new record. We are really going to try to take what we’ve done and move forward with it, it’s not going to be this avant-garde, crazy, weird album or anything. Just try to challenge ourselves, Candlemass didn’t sound like Candlemass by trying to copy Black Sabbath- and even Solitude Aeturnus, sure they sounded like they liked Candlemass but they didn’t entirely sound like Candlemass. I’m biased, but I don’t think we sound exactly like those bands.
Brooks: The one uniting factor about this band is that we are diehard metal nerds. We love it and we live it, this is our musical palate. It’s as important to understand art as it is to produce it. We enjoy spending time talking about metal, talking about songs. We have a bunch of musicians in the band and we like to talk about musicians and stupid stuff.
Steve: Even on the ride up here, that’s all we talked about. There were maybe 3 minutes of conversation that wasn’t about that.
How important is imagery and cover art for Crypt Sermon?
Brooks: I certainly consider it important. I’m a visual artist, I paint and draw. I did the cover art for the album and I’ll likely do the cover art for the next one. People who aren’t visual artists may not have as strong of an opinion on this. When I see some crappy digital art I think it’s kind of weak looking, it doesn’t resonate power the same way that when you can tell something has been painted or drawn by hand, manipulated in a way that shows time and effort. It seems to me to make the music resonate more. You get a better package when you can hold it in your hand.
Steve: I remember a time when I was getting into music that I love going into a record store and seeing the CD on the shelf, seeing the cover art and thinking it was so cool. I remember seeing "Ride the Lightning" on the shelves, and that was cool. I ended up getting it at some point.
Does the physical medium with vinyl and CD’s matter more to you in a day and age when digital downloading/ MP3’s appear to be the norm?
Brooks: I think people are going to consume music in whatever fashion it’s available. That’s fine, but I know in this band we are big fans of collecting things. We collect records, Maiden merchandise, we are fans of metal in a way that we like to accumulate the things that make us feel connected to the genre.
Steve: I grew up buying CD’s so it’s something I’m always going to be doing. I did go through a phase where it just didn’t work for me, and I was downloading more music, but what I found was I had so much music that I would listen to half an album and then move on. When you buy albums you are invested in this, so you invest time into listen to the albums.
Brooks: I can’t really understand an album if I have a lot to get through. If I listen to music, I invest a lot of time into it- which means a few listens, it doesn’t mean sitting down with an album and after one time saying ‘I like it.- that’s it.’ I like to actively invest in one band.
Name five albums in the history of heavy metal that you can’t ever live without- and who would be the one band that you think our readers really need to seek out and learn more about their discography?
Enrique: That’s such a hard question… even if you say ‘what are five metal albums’…
Brooks: Let’s try to do one album and one band from each of us. Even that is tough.
Steve: It’s a cool question though…
Enrique: We respect the question! (laughs)
Brooks: I have the back patch on my jacket, I love the English Dogs, I think what they represent, a moment in metal that was just super-duper cool. That would be my obscure-ish band, they aren’t really obscure but I think they are somewhat under-represented. Maybe they are exactly as popular as they deserve to be, but I am a super-fan of the English Dogs.
Enrique: I was thinking about the five desert island metal records, and all I know is that for me, Iron Maiden- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son has to be on there, Brave New World has to be on there… I just keep thinking Maiden honestly (laughs). They are my favorite band.
Brooks: If you had five albums by Iron Maiden, you would have a fully diverse catalog.
Steve: Classic timeless albums are classic, timeless albums. I’m going to have Blood Fire Death – Bathory, Master of Puppets- Metallica, Seventh Son or Powerslave.
Enrique: It’s almost an impossible question to answer.
Brooks: We would each need a lot of time to answer this. And it’s not like a topic that we haven’t talked about in the band before.
Enrique: Motörhead would have to be on there.
Brooks: You need at least one Motörhead album on that desert island because sometimes you just have to drink!
How is the rest of 2015 shaping up for the band as far as activities?
Steve: We have another show lined up in September. Will is going out on tour after that with his other band Hivelords, and in the fall we will start building the work on another album.
Brooks: Our goal is to build the in earnest work on our next album.
Steve: Doing an album, especially for guys like us where this is what we do, our passion, it’s a lot of work and very draining. Recording is stressful and it sucks, but when you are done it feels great.
Enrique: We are our harshest critics too, and we have to make ourselves happy.
Brooks: We had songs for the first album that we scrapped completely, and we wrote new songs right before we recorded. It’s tough to write an album, so we want to hammer down… we each have our own side projects outside of Crypt Sermon too. Everyone is a consummate musician, but for each of us this is the band we invest the most energy in. I’ve got a very non-metal project that I am working on.
Steve: We think about how the tracks are going to go in order. Say you look at "Master of Puppets" – you can name every song in order, and how you hear that album goes.
Brooks: Because we are a doom band it’s not a challenge for us to write long songs or an hour long album. It was a conscious decision to make a 44 minute record.
Enrique: It has to be compelling the whole time, we don’t like lulls in our music.