Haunter Confront the Inevitability of Nothingness on “Chained at the Helm of Eschaton” (Video + Interview)
Impermanence encourages acceptance. Stepping away from a situation, removing any emotional ties, and observing through unclouded eyes is paradoxically humanizing. It’s only through recognizing that nothing lasts, not the vessels we call our bodies or even our self-identities, that we can perceive reality more clearly. That’s the mindset Haunter adopted on their upcoming album Discarnate Ails. The Austin-based death metal group’s newest record meditates upon inevitability as they implement a punchier palette.
Discarnate Ails is the outfit’s latest sonic development. They began as a screamo act in the early 2010s but slowly morphed into a biting black metal group by the time they released their full-length debut Thrinodίa in 2016. They plunged further into opaque realms with Sacramental Death Qualia in 2019, lengthening their tracks and dabbling with more ambient soundscapes. Discarnate Ails marks a major shift for Haunter towards immediate gratification. They retain the technically-demanding passages and free-form structures from Sacramental Death Qualia, but step out of the shadows and aim straight for the chin. There’s more meat to chew on, a higher riff density, and a heightened focus on tangible reflections rather than obscure sacraments.
Below, watch the video for "Chained at the Helm of Eschaton" — then check out an interview in which we spoke with guitarist Enrique Bonilla and vocalist-guitarist Bradley Tiffin ahead of their upcoming European tour about Discarnate Ails’s recording, what changed in their songwriting practices, and how far they've come as a group.
Sacramental Death Qualia is darker than Discarnate Ails as the latter feels like a weight is being lifted off of its shoulders. Was this an intentional deviation?
Bradley Tiffin: We carved out the somber acoustic packages that came from Sacramental Death Qualia and now it’s more rockin’ metal and - as a result - more lighthearted rather than being serious and in-your-feels with Opeth-like guitar passages.
Enrique Bonilla: The same thing goes for the motifs or themes that you see in the lyrics and the artwork. Sacramental Death Qualia had esoteric and spiritual connotations, whereas this one is more grounded in livable experiences.
On the note of the album’s concepts, how do they relate to the titles “Spiritual Illness” and Discarnate Ails? They seem to speak to a pain unrelated to physicality since discarnate refers to one that lacks a physical body.
Bonilla: Lyrically, “Spiritual Illness” is about actions that directly affect the spirit whereas Sacramental Death Qualia was about fluffy philosophical-type bullshit. We’d all read esoteric texts around the time that we released Sacramental Death Qualia, whereas we were hanging out and drinking a bunch of mezcal at the beginning of COVID when we started writing this album. We were in slightly different mentalities for both records when it came time to write the themes and concepts. Typically, the music comes first when we write new records, then the lyrics come after.
Tiffin: I used to handle more of the lyrics, especially with the first album, but Enrique has taken more of the lead, especially with Discarnate Ails. I would rather just amend syllables because I’m gonna have to perform those with guitars. We’re very much in agreement conceptually and it is accurate that Discarnate Ails is about looking around - especially during the pandemic itself. There’s more to relate to when we’re putting ideas on paper.
That feeling comes through when ideas are brought into the physical realm. You can do all the esoteric and haughty material, but it’s easier to find yourself or the byline to others when it’s grounded in reality.
Bonilla: Yeah, and this record is less arts-and-crafts and more meat-and-potatoes. Basically, it was a sign of the times. A lot of it had to do with what people went through at the beginning of the pandemic. We were all jobless for a little bit. A lot of things were changing in our lives, people were moving away, and new band members were coming in, so it just felt right to write about what we were observing.
Is that why the record has to do with impermanence? “Overgrown with the Moss” conjures the image of fading and moss replacing it, and “Chained at the Helm of the Eschaton” carries the idea of reinvention. I was wondering how those ideas played into the record?
Bonilla: It’s about inevitability and how nothing is gonna be around at the end of it all. Consciousness and sentiences won’t exist, and neither will pain, because there’s no going to be anyone to experience those things so “Chained at the Helm of the Eschaton” deals with those things. We’re all along for the ride and we’re all strapped in and can’t get out. We’re watching the world crumble around us and then eventually there will be no more. And that’s it.
Tiffin: It’s your own application of those ideas, and what you do with them, is what will save you or not. There’s no point in being righteous.
There’s no judgment in your music. It doesn’t impose upon the listener. It’s more of an acceptance of what’s happening and the inevitability of relief. It gives you the ability to feel how you want to feel. How did you pursue levity in your songwriting?
Tiffin: At this point, I’m writing however I want to write for this style. It’s definitely a continuation of what Sacramental Death Qualia is going for but we didn’t want to keep it in a vacuum. We were able to get everyone’s involvement so we could get a record that sounded exactly how we wanted it to sound.
You guys wanted to make something that was more “headbangable,” right?
Tiffin: We wanted to think less of what certain ideas may mean and play with conviction instead. It was my way of making it distinct from what Sacramental Death Qualia was going for.
Bonilla: I feel like Sacramental Death Qualia requires more sitting down in order to digest it. We’re trying to stray away from that and this one is a straight-up rocker record. Not to say that Sacramental Death Qualia wasn’t, but this one has a more aggro-spiritual- jock-killer vibe.
If you compare the two, the interludes are more integrated on this album than they were on Sacramental Death Qualia, so on paper, it seems less “headbangable” even though, in reality, it is more rocking.
Bonilla: The cleaner parts sound heavier than they did on Sacramental Death Qualia because they’re more cohesive. They’re part of longer, sometimes 14-minute, tracks.
Tiffin: They say what they need to say without overstaying their welcome.
How do you guys approach writing longer pieces while trying to keep your songwriting intentions in place?
Bonilla: It starts out as a big marble block that Brad puts in front of us. Then we’ll all chisel away at it. There was so much time for us to sit on this record time from the time it was conceived that we could widdle away at it. At the time we were all living in Austin so we could all widdle away at the songs together.
Tiffin: The way I start songs, my first riff could be an idea that ends up nine minutes into the track. It’s about putting the puzzle together as each song isn’t constructed in the same way at all. We chip away at it until it’s right.
That leads to something I wanted to ask. Some people believe that, in art, they are responsible for making everything, whereas others think that their ideas take on a life of their own and that they don’t have much control over it, almost like it’s a necessity. Do you think you fall into either of those camps?
Tiffin: I’d like to think that everything is preconceived, as if I know exactly how I want a song to start or end, but I give the songs time to marinate and see if they stand the test of time. I make the call at that point, not trying to be too impulsive, but I try to let the songs take a natural course for what sounds right in my head. At this point, Enrique and I have been jamming together for a good 7 or 8 years so we know what strengths to play off of each other. It can’t all come from one head.
My favorite thing about you guys, especially with your new one, is that you don’t play with typical death metal aggression although you’re sonically heavy. You’re closer to a group like Death where you’re using might as if it’s the only way to express what you’re trying to, and you’re challenging yourself by making the most demanding music that you can without it turning into a cliche.
Bonilla: That’s a great take.
It’s an exploration of “what can we do and how can we push those concepts” besides just showing off. And what specifically about yourselves did you want to push on the new album?
Tiffin: As a byproduct of jamming with each other we know which riff styles work best and we know all the shit that we’ve come across and have grown to admire since our earlier days. Our tastes are just different. And what we want to put into our music is different. So 90s demo OSDM shit is a strong player and just wanitng a bit more instant gratification, meaning that it’s stuff that I would want to listen to and think “oh that rules.” I grew up with very patient and proggy shit, but the changes are reflected on our fretboards.
That’s interesting cause a band’s evolution usually happens in reverse; they usually begin with the heavier, more tangible stuff, then as they grow they want to play more patient music.
Tiffin: Yeah, it’s all just the headspace.
Bonilla: I just wanna rock.
Tiffin: That’s what we always say, we just wanna rock.
Bonilla: No more thinking, I just wanna rock. Even the stuff for our next record is heading in a more aggressive and pissed-off direction. It’ll retain the signature Haunter elements that people like, but we’re getting older and these fingers aren't getting any faster. No more thinking, just riffing.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud of with the new album that you haven’t had the chance to speak highly of yet?
Tiffin: I’m proud of being able to implement certain leads and improving that part of my playing because I’ve always been a straight riffer and not much a lead shredder. It was nice to apply those techniques in a compelling and comfortable way. I have to play those parts while doing vocals, so I have to consider whether I’m taking on too much when I’m putting the pieces together. I’m proud of how we added that ingredient to this album.
Bonilla: Thinking about meeting Brad and all the crazy shit we’ve been through like getting stranded in Mexico or our tires getting blown out in New Orleans, it’s nice to be able to come back at a higher echelon than what we were doing before. Prior to this, we were booking everything ourselves, but now we have players on the team who can bring those skill sets and networks to the table so it feels like the band is growing up in a big way. Obviously, the sound is evolving, and that’s going to be true of any release of ours, but it’s nice to see the progression of opportunities that are available to us now. The energy in the band is palpable now at a higher operating level than it was in the past.
Discarnate Ails releases May 6th via Profound Lore.