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Synthy Cinema: The Lion’s Daughter’s “Future Cult”

I got there early; it was a goddamn Monday. Empty Bottle in Chicago was empty, save for the bartender, a handful of band dudes, and The Lion’s Daughter on stage doing a soundcheck. Nailing the most intensive segments from their songs before an invisible crowd, the band was already furious and honed-in — still, they continued to tweak their sound down to the most excruciating detail. For one, this was the last stop on their mini-tour across the Midwest, i.e. time for one last kickass hurrah. The mood: “things better be on-point tonight.” This was also just ten days after the release of their new album Future Cult: time to lay down these new tracks as hard as humanly possible.

Fans of previous The Lion’s Daughter albums will definitely recognize what they hear; the band, though, has undertaken some serious artistic risks this go-around. Don’t worry, though — as far as the live experience goes, the band squeezes every ounce of juice possible from the fruits of their most macabre endeavors.

It comes down to the synthesizers. There are lots of them — enough to significantly define the music. These aren’t the atmospheric, deeply embedded/layered-in synths we sometimes hear in black metal and blackened death metal. They are melodic, prominently loud, backboning elements unto themselves. Think of it this way: Future Cult is undoubtedly metal (especially dark metal, at that, inspired by horror), but also intensely cinematic. Almost like a movie soundtrack, the album’s intensity rises and falls with the corresponding action — all of this is carried on wondrous waves of silky but downright sinister synth.

From background fuzz to sharp, piercing tones, raw electricity blankets Future Cult but does not occlude or preclude its artistic spirit. The same can be said of band frontman Rick Giordano. We sat down on beanbags in the back of his windowless tour van to discuss synthesizers on the new album, the band’s live experience, his favorite tunes this year, and more.

Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

So, your new album came out last Friday, how you do feel about it? A big weight off your shoulders, some excitement, or something else?

I feel really good about it — I’ve kinda lost touch with the record a little bit, because we recorded it so long ago. We recorded it like the second half of January, so after a while the excitement kinda fades. You forget how much you like the record after several times you’ve heard it, but… fuckin’ feel great about it, man.

The response has been really, really good, much better than our last record. Press has been good, and people are kind of — and I don’t know that I’d agree with this — saying it’s this “breakthrough” sound or something. I just keep seeing “sludge meets synthwave!” which is… not very accurate, and kinda silly. Hey, if it makes people go check it out, then awesome — but I don’t think it’s that hard to take a sludgy black metal band, or whatever we are, and combine it with synthesizers.

Yeah, nobody shit on Rivers of Nihil for putting saxophone in their technical death metal, for example, same deal.

For sure, try some shit, see if it works, throw it out there.

What was the thinking behind [the synth]? You had some MIDI/synth onExistence is Horror — on the new record, though, it’s prominent. Where did that come from?

I’ve always fucking loved synthesizers. I love the way that they sound — especially the aggressive, “buzzy” ones. Basically, I just wanted to write the shit that I wanted to hear… looking through bands on Spotify or Bandcamp or whatever, I kept wanting to find that shit that was the cross between Lord Mantis (or something) and Carpenter Brut. Just something different that has a new, creepy, sinister approach — there was a sound I had in my head that I couldn’t even really pinpoint at the time, but I just knew what it felt like.

I was constantly looking for that to listen to, so I said, “I’ll just try to fuckin’ make it myself.”

So, honestly, you just went on your instincts at that point, guided by what you think is going to match that sound in your head?

Yeah, and it was actually pretty fortunate that I don’t know shit about synthesizers at all — I downloaded some programs and bought some old synths, and I would play with stuff. “Oh fuck, that sounds cool! I accidentally did that — lemme plug it into my computer. Now, what goes with that? Lemme beat around on my MIDI keyboard drum sounds, let me get a guitar out, let me see what sounds cool.”

Yeah, the whole thing about knowing too much about something ruining how good you are at it? “Beginner’s insight,” almost.

Yeah, for sure.

future cult

On a separate note, but still related to the overall artistry of the new album: you guys went with Paolo Girardi for the Existence is Horror artwork, but this new album’s artwork is markedly different [laughs]. It’s not the typical “desecrated universe” style.

Yeah, that’s what drew me to it, that’s what I liked about it. We try to do something different with every record. Like, the early stuff (the Shame on Us All record) — that one’s really dirty, crusty, and mean sounding, really hateful. So, Coby Ellison’s artwork really matched that. His style is ugly, and grim, and violent, and was perfect for that.

Later, we did that record with a folk band called Indian Blanket — totally left-field from that [previous] stuff — and we had photography by a guy named Josh Rowan. It was like this serene forest, somewhere black and white… so, for, Existence is Horror: oil painting, man. Something totally different.

This one: this weird, bondage-mask, taxidermy, goat, beautiful setting, um pope robe? I don’t know what the fuck is going on in that picture, but it’s striking, and it’s unique. It was a starting point in a way — we had that image before we even wrote anything. We worked backwards.

I came across Mothmeister, the artist who did [the latest album cover] somewhere, and that image in particular… that’s the fucking album cover. Right away, I was like, “I don’t know what that is, I don’t understand it, it makes me feel a way I can’t explain, and I want to try to write the music that goes with it.”

It was a fucking huge inspiration and a critical part of the record for sure.

As far as “striking” artwork goes, do you feel like the new album and the live experience is just as “striking?” Even seasoned metal folks — do you still want them to be, like, woah?

I don’t think our live performance will ever be as visually striking as that album art — we’re still three dudes sweating and yelling, you know.

Good take [laughs].

Yeah, I think — I only know it from the inside — but we can be a fairly intense live band. I think that’s good: you know what the record’s like, but live, it’s a little louder, meaner, and just more abrasive and intense.

Yeah, there are bands which sound the same live as they do on record — that’s nice, it’s like, “wow, I get the record experience live.” But, when you see a band live who crank it up to 110% live, then it’s like, “now I really have to see this.”

Dude, when I saw Mayhem last year, when they opened with “Freezing Moon,” it was like holy fuck. It sounded like the record, but really loud, and fucking vicious. The flip-side of that, though, the first time I saw Baroness live, I was like, “aw fuck, some of these riffs are gonna kick ass” — they sounded like bullshit live. Their guitars were barely in the mix; their vocals were way on top of everything. And, they were quiet, you could talk at this volume right up at the stage — it was actually really disappointing. This was a band, especially on Blue Record, who had fuckin’ meaty riffs, and I thought it would slay [live]. It was just weak.

All that stuff matters. With your soundcheck [before this interview], you spent so much time honing your noise and sound — in metal, there’s so much noise going on, you have to make sure everything is so damn precise to really hit that mark.

Just being a three-piece, just having a singular guitar makes it a little easier. It can be a pain in the ass, though. This [Empty Bottle] is a way nicer place than we’re used to playing in, and this sound guy is awesome — super patient, super friendly, and actually seems to give a shit. It’s so helpful.

Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund
Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund

What’s been on your playlist? What have you been drawing your inspiration from, music-wise?

I’ve not listened to anything but Judas Priest this year. New album. When that came out, that got me so fucking excited about Judas Priest [laughs].

I got super into Chromatics — man, it’s great. It’s the opposite of Judas Priest. I guess it’s “extreme pop?” It just sounds like a really attractive woman dying of a Xanax overdose, with reverb pedals. It’s good for a mood for when you want to come down a little bit. But really, Judas Priest is the answer.

Last words, anything to the listeners as they tune into the album?

It’s a cliché thing to say, but thanks for checking it out.

We made a record to make ourselves happy, and we kind of thought there’d be a big backlash, like people wouldn’t like it — but people seem to get it. Everything I read about it is “1980s horror John Carpenter synth” and, yep, that’s exactly what we’re going for. For the most part, people seem to think the amalgamation actually worked pretty well.

Well, to anyone who checks it out: thanks for checking it out.

Future Cult was released on July 20 via Season of Mist.

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