The Wizard is an enthusiastic dude. He should be — he’s a fucking wizard, after all, but more importantly, the band he sings and plays guitar in will soon release II: Void Worship, one of the best trad doom records of the past decade. Rhode Island’s Pilgrim have existed since 2010, putting out a demo, a pair of splits, and a debut LP called Misery Wizard, but Void Worship sees them delivering on the tantalizing potential their earlier releases suggested.
I sent Mr. Wizard (né Jon Rossi) some questions via email after lobbying to premiere one of Void Worship‘s incredible tracks on Invisible Oranges, and I was surprised by how much what he wrote back inspired me. Exclamation points and caps-lock abounded in his return missives (edited a bit, below), and in reading how stoked the Wizard is on doom metal, booze, fantasy novels, and RPGs, it’s impossible not to get stoked right along with him.
Chris Rowella wrote about Solstice’s decidedly un-gloomy doom on IO last week, and Pilgrim are similarly not bummed. This is heavy metal, full stop, in the classic, fist-pumping tradition, it’s just that the tempos tend to be slower. You’ll likely hear bits of classic Pentagram and Cathedral, and more contemporarily, the dearly departed The Gates of Slumber and 2012’s metal it-boys Pallbearer. II: Void Worship isn’t the sound of a template shattering, but it is the sound of it inching closer to perfection.
Read our Q&A with The Wizard, and stream “Void Worship” below.
It feels like played-straight, traditional doom metal is going through a bit of a renaissance lately, even among people who are too young to remember the heydays of bands like St. Vitus and Cathedral. What resonated with you guys about this style of music that made you say “We have to start a band”?
When Krolg [Splinterfist, Slayer of Men, drums] and I started playing music, back when we were 16 (6 years ago now) we were really into Nirvana. The first day I discovered Nirvana, when I was like 14, I knew right then and there I wanted to be a big rock star. That’s what I wanted to do with my life. We really just wanted to be Nirvana. They were our favorite band.
So anyways, when we started playing music together, we were playing this heavy, drop-D, pseudo-grunge kinda stuff. Eventually, through Nirvana we discovered The Melvins and we started tuning lower and playing slower. Then we discovered a lot of west-coast stoner rock bands like Acid King and Sleep, which in turn led us to discovering Electric Wizard, which in turn led us to smoking pot, dropping acid, listening to doom metal and worshipping Satan.
There was something about heavy guitars mixed with darkness and slow tempos that captivated us. It was just so pure and honest to us. To us it was 100% relatable.
You also dive head-first into sword & sorcery themes. Are there any writers, either metal lyricists or novelists, who you try to capture the spirit of?
Musically, Varg and Fenriz! The lyrics and music of early ’90s black metal were a massive influence on Pilgrim’s initial sound and concept. Burzum’s Det Som Engang Var and Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger—both are my favorite black metal records of all time, and both are totally high fantasy in regards to the lyrics! Krolg and I would sit and listen to these records and translate the lyrics from Norweigan to English on the internet so we could read along while we listened! Fuck, I love Burzum!
The majority of our fantasy influence, though, comes from the crazy fucking role-playing video games that I used to play as a kid, like The Legend of Zelda, Diablo, Final Fantasy, and The Elder Scrolls. I would sit in front of a screen for days, weeks, months, literally years, worshipping these games and playing them over and over. I was quite the little nerd.
Krolg is the literature fanatic. He is big into Tolkien and loves Games Workshop’s Black Library series. He introduced me to the Dragonlance books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. What an amazing series! His personal library is just about 100% fantasy literature. He’s got quite the collection!
Your vocal approach on the new record is pretty ambitious — a lot of soaring high notes and dynamic shifts. How did you prepare to knock out those tracks?
In the studio, I drank heavily (mostly malt liquor and absinthe, to coat the throat, of course) and smoked an unrealistic amount of cigarettes. Interestingly enough, in order for me to get the perfect vocal takes, I had to sing in pitch darkness. I employed a sensory deprivation tactic to ensure that my pitch and timbre were the only things I focused on. On this record, I sang in character, and it took a lot of focus to get into that headspace.
I think it’s interesting that II: Void Worship has four instrumentals and four tracks with vocals. You’ve never really been a band who released instrumental tracks before. Why the change of pace?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just sort of happened that way. Some of the songs just didn’t need any vocals to convey their meaning. The titles of the songs and the music were enough on their own. I’ve always been a big fan of instrumental music, especially when it’s implemented into a rock and roll setting. Earth is my favorite band. Most of their records have no vocals at all.
I love the color palette of the new album’s cover, and how it allows us to look at some classic heavy metal imagery in a new light. What was the process for choosing that piece?
The painting (done by the amazingly talented Adam Burke) features Krolg and The Wizard and illustrates the first actual full song on the record, “Master’s Chamber.”
When I was writing Void Worship, I knew that I wanted the record to have a hazy, misty, magical, purple and blue, cool feeling about it. Our first album, Misery Wizard, was definitely a warmer, red, brown and orange, very earthy, very physical, touchable and real kind of thing, so I wanted the new record to have a totally different vibe; magical, far away, unobtainable, untouchable, distant, illusionary.
We’re premiering one of the three long tracks on the record, the title track “Void Worship.” Tell us about how that one came together.
Interestingly, the track Void Worship used to be a part of a much, much longer version of “Forsaken Man,” one of the first Pilgrim songs ever written! It was featured on both our first release ever, the Forsaken Man demo, and Misery Wizard. I was always in love with the main riff and the soaring vocal melody in the middle and was bummed that I didn’t get to use it on the first record, so I brought it back to life!
We don’t really like to talk about the true meanings behind our songs. To give you an idea, void worship means the worship of absence. It means to revel in nothingness. This is the nature of the Misery Wizard. What a wicked and terrible man he is. Imagine the concept of a man who purposely strides in the shadow. Perhaps you know someone like this? Is it you?