Lair Presents an Overwhelming Portrayal of Mankind “At Our End” (Early Album Stream + Interview)
I want slow doom to crush— not assault, exactly, so much as deliver a flood of consistent pressure that envelops and consumes at hypnotically slow speeds. Getting that right is a rare achievement, requiring successful planning and execution: the slower a song goes, the more it should be carefully composed... and it should sound exquisitely massive.
Lair, hailing from Richmond, Virginia, put out a full-length that easily met those criteria back in 2019, but (as is so often the case) I didn't come upon them until this year. They've returned with a new EP, At Our End, that takes their already devastating sound and pushes it even further while also exploring a thoughtful and distinct conceptual space that exponentially amplifies the riffs within it. At Our End is a bitter exploration of humanity's depravity—and, I should add, it sounds like buttery, saturated ruin. We're premiering the whole thing (which comes in the form of two massive tracks) right now:
At Our End is heavy and punishing, but it doesn't mount a frontal assault. It chooses a more subtle path, encroaching on your consciousness until only thoughts of twisting fuzz and dour cynicism remain. Then, the hostility increases, like upping a dosage to counter tolerance. About halfway through "At Our End," drummer Andrew introduces double-bass runs as a particularly heavy cyclical riff comes into play -- when the kick drum sounds like this one does, it's a hell of a gut punch.
Vocalist/bassist Read's howled screams are tough to decipher, but the lead lines of each track impart the context successfully on their own. Slow and somber melodies unfold throughout each song, recurring like a haunting specter. How they play out varies track-by-track: while "At Our End" is sad and poignant, "Forced March" feels much more pained and its tune runs accordingly sour.
The gloomy subjects within At Our End aren't there for shock value or selling merch designs. While yes, the excellent sound and songwriting here are big factors of what sold me on it, it's also a release that goes beyond the tried-and-true tropes of doom metal to explore dark and uncomfortable concepts worth unearthing.
Check out an interview with drummer Andrew and bassist Read below.
At Our End was recorded back in July, less than a year after your self-titled full-length debut released at the end of 2019. What was your mindset while recording this new EP? Were there any changes in direction or approach?
Read: Before even going in to record, my main goal was to continue to learn to play together as a band. I had joined the band like 6 months before we recorded the full length. I think we were still feeling each other out, where our influences were and what directions we all wanted to go in. I wanted to approach the record to document where Lair was as a band at that moment as well as lay out what is ahead of us.
Andrew: Having worked with Yavé on another project, I was really comfortable going into this recording. He’s super easy to work with and even cooked us traditional Peruvian food. It ruled! Our full length was an all analog recording so this was a little bit of a different format for the band but I think we were all looking forward to really fine tuning these songs.
Can you tell me about the title track's concept -- what's the sample that plays at the start of the song?
Read: The main theme of "At Our End" revolves how petulant and undeserving the human species can be and, as individuals, we are our own downfall in the end. The sample at the beginning is from an interview with the writer, Alan Moore. I was reading From Hell while we were writing both songs and a lot of those themes seeped into the lyrics. Particularly, the idea that one singular horrific moment in history can encapsulate and communicate future human atrocities.
The second track of your EP is about the Shelton-Laurel massacre during the Civil War. That's a pretty niche topic, but excellent fodder for doom metal -- can you tell me about how that idea came about?
Andrew: The massacre is a part of my ancestry that I shared with the band. That side of my family in Western North Carolina suffered tremendously during the war. I had the opportunity to take my bandmates to the memorial last time we played a gig in Asheville and I’m so grateful they were inspired enough to pay tribute to my ancestors through the lyrics and imagery of the album.
Andrew, as Lair's drummer, you play a big part in keeping things slow and loud, but you've also played drums in much-faster thrash/hardcore projects. What's your philosophy when writing music with Lair?
Andrew: I go into Lair writing sessions with a more minimalistic and reserved approach. My goal is to accent and support the riffs in a way that contributes to the overall vibe of a song. I’ll usually work with everyone individually to hash out ideas, experiment with tempos, and try different arrangements before bringing them to practice. My approach is constantly changing as we continue to evolve and introduce new influences to the band. We’ve been keeping an open mind when it comes to the direction of our newest material and I’m really stoked on it.
When I interviewed Ryan Wolfe from Windhand last year, we talked a bit about snare drums and getting that killer snare tone that's so important for heavy music. To continue my survey of Virginian doom metal drummers, what's your preferred snare and head combination -- live and/or in the studio?
Andrew: As Ryan mentioned, I find engineers have a ton of influence over how drums sound during a recording session. So I just tend to use what sounds and feels good to me at the time, both live and in the studio. I typically rotate between a Ludwig Acrolite and a Pork Pie brass snare. But for At Our End I used my Ludwig Black Beauty with an Evans ST Dry head. I find that head to be a good balance of attack, sensitivity, and durability and has been my go-to for a while now.
Read, At Our End has a killer bass tone. How did you get your sound where you wanted it for this record?
Read: That was 100% Yavé! It was a pretty standard recording set up, but he ended up reamping my bass through a different set up on the second day of recording and blending those two tracks. One signal uses the Damnation Audio MBD-1, which totally rips, and the second signal is fuzzed out with a Big Muff. I can’t say enough good things about recording with that dude. He rules.
Richmond, Virginia seems like a hotbed for really heavy doom -- Cough, Windhand, you folks, and a lot more. What was the local scene like pre-COVID, and what's it like now? Did COVID get in the way of any cool plans for the band?
Read: Richmond was in a weird space pre-COVID. Some crucial venues had closed and I think everyone was trying to readjust to that. COVID hit, and just like most cities across the globe, everything halted. We were actually supposed to go out for a run of shows the day they started locking down in March, so sadly that was cancelled. While there aren’t any shows going on, I've been hearing more and more bands at the practice space playing and writing music which gets me stoked. Richmond will come back with a vengeance, I am sure of that.
Andrew: The city has definitely had its fair share of doom acts over the years but there’s just so many amazing musicians here. Bands like Cremains, Leftcross, Loudnight and Hoboknife are carrying the torch for Richmond’s metal scene these days.
Thanks for speaking with me! What's next for Lair -- any release-day plans you can share?
Read: We are still trying to figure out what we can do in terms of live-streaming, video recording and all that stuff. We have some things in the works for the near future but as for release-day plans, it will probably be drinking some beers at the practice space and working on new material. Oh, it is also the same day as Tony Iommi’s birthday, so definitely toasting to the godhead!
At Our End releases February 19th, 2021 via Hand of Death Records.