“In Depths We Sleep”: The Doomier Side of Necropanther’s Multifaceted Metal (EP Premiere + Interview)
Like many wonderful things, this feature came about as a direct consequence of my own ignorance.
While checking out Denver quartet Necropanther's upcoming EP In Depths We Sleep, I’d marveled at how it was so divergent from any of their earlier work—it’s an aquatic-themed doom record that imparts every bit of the pressure you’d presumably feel during a lonely trek across the ocean floor, while the band’s Twitter bio pitches them as writing “short, thrashy death metal songs from a dystopian future.”
And on their 2019 full-length The Doomed City, that’s exactly what they do. But between that record and this EP, there was an undeniable quality that linked the two together, threading through their 2020 single “Et Unyttig Liv”—a six-minute trek through Norwegian black metal. Hearing that for the first time when it dropped, I had the same reaction.
I responded to In Depths We Sleep with a half-snarky but fully genuine tweet: “How is it that every Necropanther album sounds like a different band but they're all great?”
And I got an answer, thanks to Peter “Trendcrusher” K. of the Horns Up podcast:
Shortly after, the band’s marketing director and all-around facilitator of things Jan Johnson chimed in with a fuller explanation of who’d written what, and I was hooked—I had to find out more about this band who’d written one of my favorite records of 2019 while also dropping solo EPs left and right, and all at the same high level of quality and polish.
So dive into our full-length premiere of Necropanther's new EP In Depths We Sleep—written by guitarist and vocalist Paul Anop—and then slide down for a robust conversation with the entire band on what they do, where the ideas come from, and how they make it all come together.
I love how you’ve been releasing individual EPs and singles between your full-length releases. How did this all start?
Marcus Corich (bass): Our first EP was Oppression in 2018. We are all prolific songwriters, I had a few songs I was sitting on and we decided to release them as Necropanther. The beauty of the EPs is we can be more explorative and take more risks musically and procedurally, additionally highlighting everyone’s voice and writing style while still presenting our art as a cohesive unit.
Paul Anop (guitar and vocals): I think we all had written some great songs that didn’t quite fit the Necropanther formula. We wanted to have something to release in between full-lengths, so we decided to put out our individually written EPs.
So Paul—as the writer of In Depths We Sleep, take me into the inspiration behind the EP. Where did this record come from?
Anop: I moved to the Caribbean from Wichita, Kansas in 2007, and I had just left the metal band I was playing with. After about a year of just working on the boats and diving, I wanted to get back into music somehow. I decided to get a Boss BR1200 and try to make some instrumental music by myself.
I recorded one full length and one EP over the course of the next two years. I released it under the name Whale Falls on Myspace and to the few local friends I still had in Wichita. These songs were basically forgotten for about ten years, until one day a little over a year ago, I decided that I would like to reimagine and re-record some of my favorite tunes. I asked the guys if they would be interested in helping me with the project, and they were instantly into the idea.
We decided it would be best reflected as an EP written entirely by me, similar to Marcus’ Oppression. I started demoing out the few tracks that I liked the most. I also wrote “Benthic Storms” last year to get a little bit of a modern take on where my head was 10 years ago. I decided that I could make an interesting story about a musician who had to make ends meet by crewing on a doomed whaling ship. I really love what Max did with the art, and it reflects the feeling I wanted to convey with the music.
“Working on the boats and diving”—can you expand on that? What did your life look like during that time?
Anop: My official title on my work permit was Scuba Instructor. With that title came a lot of responsibilities. Everything from boat maintenance and equipment repair to being a tour guide. Every day was very similar in terms of the routine. Get up around 6 a.m. Have the boats ready for divers by 7:30 for dive trips. Make sure everyone has a good time and comes back safely. Rinse and repeat daily.
Sometimes we would work for almost a month straight with no days off. It was hard work, and you don’t get paid a whole lot for the amount of responsibility that comes with the job. Those were sacrifices worth making to be able to be underwater almost every day. I saw some amazing things.
Joe Johnson (guitar): Paul’s bookcase is full of very specialized books on sea life of the Carribean. He’s being modest, but he’s as accomplished about that as he is about music. Paul, you need to tell him about your customers who wanted to see a hammerhead.
Anop: Sometimes you have great returning customers who are very experienced, and all you have to do is drive them to the dive site and bring them back. I had a group of guys from the Bronx that had been diving there for several years. The only thing they had never seen was a hammerhead. This is one of the more rare things to see in Cayman.
I tried to put them on sites that had the best chances of finding one, but after two weeks of diving every day, we had no luck. The very last day of their trip, they said that I had to find them one. I said, “Sure, I will let it out of the cage when we get to the site.”
We moored up at the dive site, I got all of them in the water, then I descended after them. I went all the way down to where I felt a really cold thermocline that was at about 140 feet. I looked to my left and saw something coming towards me in the distance. As it swam closer, I realized it was actually a hammerhead shark! I saw my divers about 40 feet above me, and I knew this was my chance. I started to swim right for it.
The shark wanted nothing to do with me, so it started ascending right towards the group. I banged on my tank to get their attention. After some head-spinning, they all saw the shark coming up right to them. It was a 1 in a million shot, and somehow, luck was on my side that day. I like to think that I have a little shark whisperer in me.
What inspired you to jump from Kansas to the Caribbean? I’m always interested in learning about what makes people pick up and ship off to a distant place.
Anop: I was 22. I had no idea where my life was heading. I decided that I could move to the Caribbean and do my instructor internship. After I was certified as an instructor, I had already made a few friends around the island, and it was fairly easy to find a job. Divemasters and instructors have a pretty high turnover rate. It's pretty easy to get burnt out fast on a tiny island without much to do.
After a few years, I really wanted to get back into music while I was still young enough. The ocean will always be there for me, so I moved back to Wichita to figure out how to live in the real world again. Eventually I made my way to Denver in search of the best musicians I could find to start this project, and here we are.
What about the other two—last year’s “Et Unyttig Liv” from Haakon and Marcus’s 2018 EP Oppression? What are the stories there?
Corich: I had a basic idea underlying each of my songs, and my bandmates challenged me to build those into a story. I went with a story of an artist rebelling against authoritarianism, which I find compelling and perennially relevant. I wanted to convey raw panic, defiance, and bliss in solitude in the songs, respectively.
Haakon Sjogren (drums): Around the time right before I wrote “Et Unyttig Liv,” there was an increased amount of political incidents involving racists and Nazis worldwide. These people were also heavily infused in our local metal scene. Some people even started showing up to metal shows wearing swastikas behind the guise of being “rebellious” and “exercising free speech.” What made it even worse was that there were people in the scene protecting this terrible behavior.
I can’t stand the “good people on both sides” bullshit. Venues rightfully started blacklisting individuals and cancelling shows involving Nazi bands. Whenever we would find a new black metal band to listen to, one of the first questions we’d have to ask ourselves was, “...but are they Nazis?” Why was it so that the black metal genre provided such a safe haven for Nazis? Why is NSBM a thing and not National Socialist Indie Rock?
I love black metal, but I strongly dislike how the genre has chosen to accept Nazism as a part of itself. I feel like there were two kinds of black metal artists: those who are obvious Nazis, and those who choose not to speak up about it. I’m basing this off of my personal experience in the scene. “Et Unyttig Liv” gave me an opportunity to create art to properly express myself by writing the song in the style of Norwegian black metal.
I couldn’t agree with this more—there’s this intensely frustrating tendency in metal, and specifically black metal, for people to downplay the influence of facism and pretend as though only overt racism qualifies as something to be worried about. How can people attempt to steer clear of less-obvious Nazi bands? What are some effective tactics that anyone can practice to counter the influence of facism in metal?
Sjogren: Great question. I think there are three steps in answering your question: 1, know who the anti-fascists are; 2, know who the fascists are; and 3, stop giving fascists time and money.
The quickest way to identify anti-fascists is to hear people be vocal about their standpoint. People who choose to not speak up against fascism or refuse to pick a side do not fall in your ally-category. Silence fuels fascism, and therefore there is no middle ground that’s acceptable. The best-case scenario for people who remain silent is that they’re a supporter of fascism; the worst-case scenario is that they’re a fascist. Neither of these is acceptable.
Once you identify the fascists, you have to take a very firm stance on your position. Don’t indulge them in a conversation unless you’re well-versed on the topic. Just dismiss them and tell them that you’re not going to waste your time discussing why their hate is a good thing. The more serious you are about being anti-fascist, the more serious people’s responses have to be when they’re defending their position. Be ready to call someone a former friend. It’s OK to hate haters, but it’s not OK to hate the innocent.
If you find out that a band you like is Nazi or pro-fascist, you need to immediately stop everything that involves them. Stop streaming and buying their music. Stop going to shows at venues that have hosted Nazi bands. They require your time and money. Encourage others to follow suit. There is no song that's good enough to justify brushing fascism aside.
Necropanther is lucky to play the majority of our shows in Denver. There are so many venues that have taken a firm stance on making sure that no Nazi-related bands will play on their stages. The Hi-Dive in Denver didn’t waste a second canceling Horna once their background came to light. Streets of London similarly identified a Nazi/skinhead presence in the Denver heavy music scene and very publicly branded their establishment as prohibiting people associating with prejudicial groups. Be like Streets of London and the Hi-Dive.
Johnson: For listeners, critical media consumption is the basic technique. It’s fashionable in some ways to have a cynical point of view and to “believe nothing, question everything,” but that’s not the same as media critique or analysis. You have to evaluate what’s explicit in a piece of media and determine the most likely implicit meaning.
As for avoiding moral relativism, it’s important to clarify that authoritarian ideologies are not rebellion, not freedom, and not rock and roll. Packaging obedience to central authority as rebellion is a logical fallacy. People who take that up do it for affiliation because they lack the capacity or courage to reason for themselves. They try to put it forward in obscure subcultures because it can’t withstand scrutiny or analysis. You have to confront it, call it by its real name, and cast it out.
It’s embarrassing that metal has this problem, and I think that people who care about metal have to take personal responsibility to solve it on an individual basis. Maybe that’s not such a fun thing all the time, but it’s more worthy of the art form that brings us together. We never set out to be a political band, but like Haakon said, that was a boundary that we felt it was worthwhile to make clear.
Corich: I think Haakon’s ethos for his EP is an excellent starting point: It’s not okay to turn a blind eye to harmful ideologies in any community, especially in metal. People who want to grow and maintain a healthy musical community have to be explicit and speak out about what kind of behaviors will not be tolerated. Beyond that, vocally and financially support the venues, bands and individuals that denounce Nazis, fascists, misogynists, bigots, and prejudice of all kinds.
Your marketing director Jan Johnson mentioned that you guys take care of all your own production and recording for the EPs and singles—what does that process look like? I’ve heard that there are lots of spreadsheets involved…
Anop: Google Sheets and Google Docs have become our go-to for keeping everyone on the same page. I believe it has helped our organization immensely. When we were in the studio with Dave Otero working on The Doomed City, he told us that we were the most organized band he had ever worked with. That is a great compliment for me.
Johnson: With so much creative horsepower in this project, it helps to have a framework to ensure that everyone has their voice represented and to maintain a shared vision of what the finished product is going to be.
It’s standard for bands to have at least a whiteboard to track what’s in process and complete during recording sessions. That’s a primitive form of a spreadsheet. We use a modern version to make that information richer and available to all of us from anywhere. We also extend it to manage other decisions and activities around the writing and production process.
In terms of the technical process, we each have similar home studios and software. That makes it possible to share files over a cloud drive and build matching sessions remotely. For example, Paul can record his guitars and share the DI file of the performance over G-Drive, along with the midi tempo map and drum tracks. The other guys and I can build matching sessions from that.
Then, we can add new parts, edit, or reamp, and we know that the pieces will fit back together on Paul’s master session for mixing. We use a spreadsheet to keep track of what’s complete and who’s working on different areas of the production. It’s visible to all of us quickly, even when the files aren’t all assembled in a single session.
We used similar processes on all of our other recording projects, so that helped us to collaborate on In Depths We Sleep when it became risky to spend a lot of time together in a practice room.
How has COVID changed the way you work together? How did your process for this EP differ from the way you worked together on The Doomed City?
Corich: COVID definitely was a stick in the spokes for us, as I’m sure it was for most bands. We viewed In Depths We Sleep as an opportunity to try and refine our processes by working remotely. As much as I miss playing music in person with my friends, I think we rose to the challenge of communicating, organizing, recording, mixing and mastering without being in the same room together. Haakon, Joe and Paul all killed it in getting this one done.
Anop: We started using Zoom calls as a way of somewhat being in the same room to be able to talk about the future of the band. We have been able to continue working on merch designs and business stuff through the calls as well.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about your Twitter presence is the in-depth DIY recording guides. What was your setup for recording the drums on In Depths We Sleep? The final sound is incredibly clean—not just in terms of the EP being a DIY release, but in general.
Anop: When I moved back to Wichita around 2012, I wanted to start a small recording business. I learned a lot about tracking and mixing from the last 10 years of experience. I have learned a lot from my own mistakes in recording as well.
We ended up with 14 mics for the drums. We mostly use Focusrite and API preamps. We were able to record in my garage that is really big—20’ x 30’ with a 20’ ceiling. This provided the drums a lot of room to breathe, which I think really helps to isolate each piece of the kit.
Having a world-class drummer helps big time! Haakon nails all of his parts and is extremely consistent. He also does all of his own editing, which helps make the final mixes even cleaner. We mix in the box with Universal Audio plug-ins. Lots of Neve, API, and UA software.
What are some of those mistakes you’ve made along the way, and what are you now doing instead?
Anop: Oh, man, so many. I think the biggest issue I had in the first few years was a lack of understanding of how to use software properly. I had no idea how to use compressors during tracking or mixing. I also went cheap on some microphones and was always wondering why I couldn’t get them to sound good.
I think the many years spent reading about what the pros do have helped. The Metal Music Manual by Mark Mynett is an excellent source of information for recording and mixing metal. I now utilize compressors, EQs, and various channel strip settings while tracking. Having a solid understanding of how to utilize these tools helps immensely.
One more question about the studio—Paul, you’ve got a very diverse vocal range. What’s your warmup routine like, and how did you cultivate your vocal abilities?
Anop: For tracking, I usually do a full take of a song before I feel like I am warmed up and ready to go. For live shows, my adrenaline is pumping so much I actually don’t need to warm up. It is part excitement and part performance anxiety, but it works well when you just have to scream for 45 minutes!
I listen to a lot of older black metal, and I always enjoyed the higher demonic goblin voice for some reason. That voice came extremely naturally for me. The lower voice took a lot more time to cultivate. It took several years of recording and lots of live performances to perfect that style. You can hear the development of it through the albums. I feel like I finally achieved the low voice I was happy with on The Doomed City.
How do you handle songwriting when it’s time to put your heads together for a full-length Necropanther album?
Corich: We’re very deliberate, we want our full-lengths to be completely collaborative with input from every member. We all bring riffs, lyrics, or structural ideas, and we vote on the final rendition of the song. Speaking personally, I think our process has been sound and is only improving as we keep writing.
Anop: For the next record, I have been demoing out a lot of different songs, but I am not trying to perfect them. Only laying down the frames so we can be totally collaborative with all of my songs. We usually hash out new ideas in the practice space but we are figuring out ways around that.
Johnson: Everyone in the band is capable of demoing out a riff or song idea on their own. We’ll listen back to those raw ideas and share notes on them. Normally, we take turns jamming out those demo ideas during band practice to refine them and develop a song structure. Then, we’ll build out a full band demo and finalize the lyrics in a Google Doc. The full band demo will usually add a few more instrumental parts or some slight structure changes.
We try to solve all of the problems and make all of the major decisions during that demo process, as a rehearsal for the actual record. That way, the final recording becomes almost entirely about getting the best possible performances and tones so that people listening at home can hear the songs the way they sound to us.
Sjogren: I see the EPs as a refreshing moment to take a pause from all the seriousness surrounding the release of a record. EPs enable us to put the Necropanther-standard on the back-burner and pretend that the band is something completely different for a brief moment in time. Exploring new musical territories with EPs helps us grow into something more than we previously were last time around. This design can’t get dull.
In Depths We Sleep is your fourth consecutive collaboration with cover artist Max Sherman. How did you begin working with him, and what is your working process like together?
Corich: I remember first seeing Max’s art and being instantly stoked. I reached out to him to do the Oppression artwork, and we never looked back. His work is vibrant and exciting, and I think it is a perfect match for what we do. Max is a pro’s pro with great ideas, instincts, skills, and is an absolute pleasure to work with. We’re fired up to have his art on our albums.
Anop: I agree with Marcus on Max having great instincts. I gave him the rough idea of what I wanted for In Depths We Sleep, and he nailed it harder than I expected. It is extremely easy to work with him, and I love his art.
Any plans for an EP from Joe to round out the set?
Corich: Oh hell yes!
Johnson: Yes, it has been part of the plan from pretty early on in the Oppression days that we would all want to do a project like this.
I think it says something good about our band that we can support each other while we stretch creatively, and that we’re all committed to that aspect of this project. The rest of the guys have made really impressive statements, so I feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to the standard they’ve set. I have some ideas that I’m working on, both musically and thematically. It’s just a matter of putting them through the process of development and realization.
Depending on how things play out with collaborating and writing during COVID, I think it’s likely we’ll do a full-band full-length first. I would expect my EP to be on deck after that. These EPs have been fun and interesting for us, so I could see us continuing to make them in different ways and sequences indefinitely.
In Depths We Sleep releases March 12th on Bandcamp.