Be careful what you call Restless Spirit, because frontman Paul Aloisio will likely change their music just to contradict you. He’s not rude by any means, but he’s a self-described contrarian who would rather define his music on his own terms. When the group’s second LP, Blood of the Old Gods, earned praise in 2021 as a progressive sludge metal album, Aloisio thought it was great, then proceeded to run as far away from the descriptor as he could.
As such, their follow-up Afterimage trims all its predecessor’s fat, removing the atmospheric interludes and acoustic overdubs for an overabundance of guitar pedals. The album’s intermission earns its name; “Brutalized” is, in Aloisio’s own words, “an assbeater” designed to showcase Restless Spirit’s true colors.
Given all that, putting Afterimage in a box is difficult. It’s accessible and approachable, so it’s not tricky to categorize due to intentional ambiguity, but because it exists between genres without committing too hard to any. Stoner metal and doom metal are the two easiest designators, but they fail to capture Restless Spirit’s newfound anthemic tendencies.
The group operate like they’re playing to both a packed concert venue and the patrons outside. While the riffs still man the forefront, the long tracks and vast structures are gone. Afterimage is direct without being obvious, partially because Restless Spirit wanted to play more songs during short tour setlists rather than belt out three eight-minute tracks and call it a day.
The increased urgency blends wonderfully with the album’s themes. Aloisio wrote it from a place of recovery from his own vices and tragedies. Healing and resurrection are palpable throughout Afterimage as riffs surge with vitality and Aloisio delivers quasi-heroic vocals. At times, he sounds ecstatic. Elsewhere, he’s barely holding on, throwing himself into the storm and battling to make it through a track. Check out “All Furies” to hear both approaches in action.
Aloisio spoke with us about his so-called “Long Island deep-fried metal,” his innate desire to zig when others zag, and how he and his bandmates went about creating a looser album in Afterimage.
You and band cofounder Marc Morello have known each other since kindergarten, right?
I met him in a summer rec program when I was 4 years old. I think that was right after preschool and right before kindergarten, so I’ve known him my entire life. It was interesting because his dad was into rap, so he was never really into metal, but my dad raised me on Black Sabbath, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin, so I’ve been around this stuff my entire life. We started getting into heavier music together. I never really went through any strange phases before I discovered I loved heavy music.
I have memories of watching The Song Remains the Same when I was 4 years old. My friends were always coming to me for new music, which is funny cause now I stick to what I know. Occasionally, bands will come around that I'm into, but I like comfort. It’s hard for me to get into something brand new.
Mine and Marc’s favorite band forever has been Type O Negative. I showed him Life is Killing Me, and he first thought it sucked, but a week later, he said it was the greatest thing he’d ever heard. In more recent years, I’ve regressed in my music tastes because when I'm coming up with riffs, my favorites are all the classics. I'm not really into what’s popular right now, so I try to ignore it. It’s hard not to take influence from things. I just want to go back to my roots and see what I can do with them.
If you go back to what initially inspired you, you can keep it pure and mine what's left for all its worth. However, if you listen to newer stuff, there may be more gimmicks or trends that you pick up just because you're listening to it.
It’s more that Marc and I have been playing in some version of Restless Spirit since we were 14 years old. It’s always been the same type of music. There’s never been any desire to be anything other than what we are. So trends and shit like that have never crossed our paths. Even with the new trends of caveman death metal, there’s never been the thought that we should have more death metal riffs.
I mean, we have faster and thrashier stuff, but it never comes from “Oh, this is popular; let’s tap into it.” It comes from us being antagonistic, that’s my personality. When we released our second album, Blood of the Old Gods, everyone was calling us progressive-sludge-doom, and I thought it was cool, but I didn’t agree.
Then every other band in our realm of influence was being called progressive-sludge-doom, so I said “fuck this.” So, the new album has shorter, faster songs. The new single “All Furies” is thrashier. If you say we sound like one thing, we’re not gonna do that again because that’s boring to me.
I was going to ask why you moved away from the progressive styles on Blood of the Old Gods, but I guess your contrarian personality explains why.
There are certain bands I love, but I know what they’re going to sound like when a new album comes out. For my music, that’s just not as interesting. Not only that, but being such a huge fan of Type O Negative, I love longer songs and tracks with different changes and parts. A fan favorite of ours is the first track on Blood, “Judgment and Exile,” but that’s an eight-and-a-half-minute song. There’s no getting around playing it because everyone loves it. I love playing it. But, sometimes we get stuck with a 30-minute set at a festival, and we throw “Judgment and Exile” in there, but it’s eight-and-a-half minutes, so you get where I’m going with this?
A lot of hardcore kids are into us too for whatever reason. Maybe it’s our attitude, or where we grew up, but I think it’s cool. We’ll play hardcore shows, and maybe we get 15 to 20-minute sets. Then we have to choose the short songs—the bangers. You have to. Most of our songs are five or six minutes.Blood is a 40-minute album, but there are five songs and two interludes, you know? That’s why the newest album has eight full, shorter songs and one interlude that's not just atmospheric.
The interlude is short and fast. It's almost like a hardcore song in its most basic terms.
I made it with Spotify in mind since the algorithm keeps catching all of our interludes. Even our intro for the first album has 250,000 plays, and most of them are from algorithmic playlists. So, strategically thinking, if something is gonna get stuck in an algorithmic playlist, and people are going to check us out from that, let's make an assbeater, so instead of the “Betrayer” on Blood of the Old Gods, which is a nice acoustic track, we made something that represents of our whole sound. I want people to get more of an idea of what they can expect if the algorithm keeps doing what it's going to do.
Was the algorithm one of the reasons you made Afterimage more immediate?
Not really. I don’t really think about stuff like that too often. At the end of the day, I want to make stuff that I want to listen to. If you make an album, and it’s not your favorite album for a couple months, then you didn’t do a good job, in my opinion. I listened to Afterimage so much when it was done that I’m so fucking tired of it.
That’s how you know you loved it. You played it that much.
It sounded great; we are super happy with it. We didn’t take any shortcuts. Going in, I knew who I wanted to record and mix it. Everything was incredibly intentional this time. Not so much for Spotify because whatever I write is whatever I write. It’s more so that it’s just what I was feeling. I get influenced from the fact that I’m a contrarian. It’s just boring if people say, “This band sounds like this, so the new album is exactly what you’d expect.” Fuck that, dude. It’s not fun.
People have been labeling us for stoner doom for so long, and we’ll get labeled that by people who review us, and when we speak to them, they say that we’re not quite stoner doom, that’s just the closest thing they could come up with. And, fair enough. We just don’t really even fit into that scene because we’re a lot heavier than stoner doom bands. I mean, on the first album, everyone was talking about the fuzzy tones, but I didn’t touch the fuzz pedal one time. They just try to shoehorn you into things and hear things. There was no fuzz.
Did you add more fuzz after the fact?
On the first album, I was a fan of using as little gain as possible. I pushed it as far as I could without using gain; then on Blood, I decided to use a ton of gain and fuzz this shit out of everything. It was crunchy. I used a Swollen Pickle on Blood, which is a notoriously difficult pedal, and everyone was wondering how I got it to sound good. I just fiddled around with it. You can make anything sound good, you just gotta toy with it more than turning one or two dials.
On Afterimage, I went insane with the gainstaging. The guitar tone was blown the fuck out beyond human comprehension. We went a step further. Our engineer re-amped everything with an HM-2 and then blended it in, so there are HM-2 tones in there. I’m not a huge fan of HM-2, but having it blend in and have those undertones added another dimension of heaviness.
I wanted to ask about the press quote: “Afterimage might well be read as a cautionary tale.”
There’s been a lot of tragedy in my life, especially when I was young. I’ve lost a lot of people. It really took a toll on my mental health. I dealt with it in a really bad way. I almost completely fucked up and ruined my life. I got heavy into drinking and stuff like that. I wasn't taking care of my mental health. Now, I've put that shit behind me. I needed to purge everything. It’s funny because I thought that by writing these songs, I could get the feeling out and not have to experience those things. But shit just got worse, and I decided I was done with it all.
I’m sober now, and I have no desire to go back to that lifestyle whatsoever ever again. I see people now drinking and partying, and I’m bored of that. My life is so much better now than when I was drinking.
Look, I’ve been depressed since I was 4 years old. I used to tell my dad that I like the gray days. What a creepy little thing for a child to say. My brothers would be outside playing, and I’d lock myself in a closet with a book and flashlight and read cause I just wanted to be alone in the dark. I’ve struggled with it my whole life, so I just drank. I never really did that much disastrous stuff, but I was on the path to destroying myself. I realized I couldn't do it anymore. I put it all behind me. I’m a very rational person, so once I realized I didn’t want to live like that anymore, it was done.
Funny enough, the final song, “From The Dust Returned,” is about struggling with alcoholism and not learning from your mistakes. It seems prophetic. We’d been playing that song for years. It was a re-recoding of a song from our first EP, but we felt it never got its proper due. So we re-recorded it ‘cause it was time. It’s relevant to what I was going through.
I experienced tremendous loss, and the biggest thing was losing my stepfather after a lengthy, horrible illness. It just destroyed me. I saw that I had a choice—It’s not like my life has been perfect, then one bad thing happened, and it ruined everything. One of my best friends that Marc and I grew up with passed away from a drug overdose a few years ago. In the same three month span, we lost three friends, all from drugs. All friends we grew up with. So, it was like, don’t go down that fucking path, if you can help it.
It was the one final thing that made me get help and take therapy seriously and fix my life before I ended up like that. But, you know, it’s the human condition. As depressed as I’ve always been, I’ve felt that I’ve always been an optimist. This is just the trial and tribulations of life. The reason I’m so open about it is ‘cause I wanted to make something that’s real to me. Every album is an insight into my life. I’m writing the lyrics; I don’t want to make something that’s bullshit.
Did the focus on therapy and self-care take place between Blood and Afterimage?
I’ve been in therapy for most of my life, but I wasn’t taking it seriously. I had a baseline of “fine,” but I didn’t realize things could be better than fine. Really, everything after the album was recorded and finished was when I realized I needed to get my shit together because everything came to a head. It’s awesome because now I’m fully there when I’m playing shows and I have more energy. I used to get so anxious and have the worst stage fright. I thought drinking would help, but now, I’m not scared at all. I realize there are a lot worse things to be scared of in life than people paying to see your band and buying your records.
Afterimage releases October 6th via Magnetic Eye Records.