Stormruler: Imperial Black (Magick) Metal Warfare (Interview)
United States black metal (USBM) may not receive as much attention or credibility as its Scandinavian and European counterparts do. However, the US is well represented by such innovative modern USBM bands such as Agalloch, Abigail Williams, and Wolves In The Throne Room, while bands such as Profanatica and Von sparked the movement back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. In the past two years, St. Louis two-piece project Stormruler, featuring drummer Jesse Schobel and guitarist/vocalist Jason Asberry (Harkonin, Bastard), have become a well respected addition to the USBM scene.
On its second full-length album in the span of two years, Sacred Rites & Black Magick, the blackened duo have created a cinematic storyline to rival its debut album Under A Burning Eclipse. Cloaked in tremolo riffs, blast beats, harsh vocals and melodic dynamics, Stormruler weaves its special magic on its 20 majestic and epic tracks. Guitarist/vocalist Jason Asberry spoke with us about the band’s influences, the current metal scene in St. Louis, the new album, and future plans.
USBM may not receive as much attention or credibility as its Scandinavian and European counterparts do. Do you find that to be the case?
I’m back and forth with it; US black metal is finicky. Obviously, there are some really good black metal bands, especially in the Pan-American Native Front that's going around; Blackbraid and Stormkeep and bands like that. I think there was a big thing with US black metal for a long time, where everybody was really into that atmospheric, depressive, suicidal, black metal thing. And I feel like a lot of people just got burnt on it pretty quickly. And that was the biggest black metal thing going on in the US that kind of got boring. But there are a lot of good, true black metal bands that rip riffs and have a little bit of substance to them.
Were you influenced by the second wave of Norwegian BM/Swedish? Your music has a certain nostalgic quality yet there are other elements added that separates you from being just a black metal clone or copycat. Although there are some similarities to established acts such as Immortal and Dissection or early Emperor, were these bands a big influence and any others you care to name?
I would absolutely go as far as to say that Europe and especially the Scandinavian and Slavic countries are superior black metal and that's where we get most of our influence; definitely Norway. Obviously, we're huge Emperor fans, we love Dimmu Borgir, but Sweden is probably where we draw most of our influence from with Dissection, Marduk and Dark Funeral. There's bands out of Finland and Poland that we love. Europe definitely has the better black metal I would say.
You always hear about a lot of one-man black metal bands but a duo is sort of rare. Was this always the game plan or could you not find any other permanent members?
I would say it was part of the game plan, but we really didn't have a game plan. Me and Jesse, we’ve known each other for a long time, we’ve both played in the St. Louis music scene together in separate bands for a long time. But we actually were playing as hired guns in a buddy of ours’ band called Xaemora, a black metal band, and we got to play with each other in that. Then after a while we got to hanging out again and we'd be at his place listening to all these bands thinking that this is what black metal people should be playing. So we said let's just write our own record just for the hell of it. And we threw the first record together in a couple of months. There was no real goal with it, no plan with it. We just wrote a black metal record for ourselves that we thought we wanted to hear and it happened to work out. Having two people makes things easier as far as the writing process and the butting of heads. You don't have to hurt people's feelings. So it's really just he and I getting to tell each other off and it makes the writing process much easier.
How would you compare the new album to Under A Burning Eclipse? Was there anything you wanted to try different or experiment with?
We've had some of that material for a while, just because when we were ready to put out Under A Burning Eclipse, we were ready to just put it out and start working on this next record. But when we put it out and got picked up by Napalm and we started doing that process. But after that, when we really started buckling down and writing a lot more for the new record, I think it was a little more thought out now because we became a real band. I think the sound is definitely more mature, more thought out and a little more planned.
This is your second full length album in two years. I think that's pretty prolific. Did you did you have a lot of material on the back burner due to the pandemic, like what led to this release so soon after your debut?
We got done writing the Under A Burning Eclipse stuff in early 2019. After that, we just didn't stop, we had nine songs for Under A Burning Eclipse. We thought that was good enough for the record, but (we wanted) to strike while the iron is hot and keep writing. So we just kept on writing and I haven't stopped writing. When we got this done, we got 10 songs on it. But we've already got material for three, four more albums if we really wanted to.
One may look at the track listing and see 20 tracks, but half of them are short interludes that enhance the storytelling. It’s like a movie being played out. Was that the intention and what were you trying to capture mood wise with the music?
It’s definitely a cinematic experience, if you will. Jesse and I are both big Pink Floyd fans, we're big Allegiance fans and both of those bands are famous for having extremely cohesive and seamless records. And that's what we wanted. We made the interludes their own tracks, partially because we think they deserve to be their own tracks. And also partially because some listeners aren't going to want to listen to two minutes of an interlude at the beginning of a song or at the end of the song. This gives them the choice to flick through and just kick on the song. The idea and the intent was to make the album cohesive and seamless. Just flow together naturally.
Is this a true concept album or do some of the songs have a theme that tie together?
Lyrically, no; musically, yes. I like to have an album with an overlying sound. There's a lot of different sounds on the record, but I get to have one full picture. Lyrically, we have several different topics that we talk about on this record.
What were some of your lyrical inspirations? Were they narratives that you made into a song with little stories?
A couple of them, yes. There's a couple songs where I made the story up myself or there is an introspective song. But there's other songs where… Obviously, we drew our name from Dark Souls. We have a couple of Dark Souls songs, a couple of Bloodborne songs. But we also have songs of historical wars, the Ottoman Empire and the Romanian conflicts.
The cover art was created by Giannis Nakos (Evergrey, Oceans of Slumber, Pyramaze). How does the art tie in with the theme/lyrics, etc and what did you convey to him as far as the concept?
We give Giannis a lot of creative freedom on the art, but we'll give him a sense of direction. We told him we wanted dark colors, dark deep blue because classic records typically have deep blue coverage; look at In the Nightside Eclipse, The Secrets of the Black Arts and Storm of the Lights Bane and stuff like that. All we told him was we want it dark, we want it bleak. We wanted him to hear it in the lyrics for the entire album and to listen to it to get some inspiration from it. We told him the themes and topics we talked about and then he did one version of it and then we gave him a couple of notes. Then the second revision and it was done. The dude crushes it on all of his projects, he’s an amazing artist.
The album was produced by Gabe Usery (Bastard). What type of sound were you wanting to achieve? It has a bombastic and majestic feel with clean guitars and pronounced vocals.
We knew well before we even recorded this record that we wanted to go to Gabe. He’s got a studio here in St. Louis; Encapsulated Studios. He's really good at capturing a raw sound but still making it sound good enough and polished. Not too polished, but nice, clean and crisp. And I think he crushed it on this record.
What’s the news on your other bands Harkonin and Bastard? I know you just recently released new albums with each.
Harkonin right now is doing some writing. Matt Baker, the guitar player in that band, does a lot of the writing and then I'll come in and help structure and polish it up, redo a riff or something. But we're in the process of writing some stuff with that. And then Bastard is doing some shows here in the fall, but we all play in other bands. Obviously, I have Stormruler, Scott Foglebach has The Lion’s Daughter and Jason Baron has 33 different bands. Tim (Kutterer) our bass player has got another band and all that stuff. So right now we're all just kind of focusing on our own projects. We go through phases; right now it's Stormruler time, and then it's going to be Bastard time. And then it'll be Harkonin time and then we'll jump back to Stormruler for some stuff. Stormruler are obviously at the forefront of all that.
Most musicians these days are in multiple bands, including yourself. How do you balance your schedule and how do you keep the music separate and appropriate for each group you’re in? Do you just know instinctively what music goes with which band?
I think it's healthy for musicians to have multiple bands. It's not like every band has to get together two or three times a week to sit down and write new songs or brainstorm or have band practice all the time. All of us are pretty good at writing on our own time, sending it to each other, polishing it up, and then getting together a week or two before whatever we need to do and crunch them. All the bands sound different; Bastard has that speed metal/black rock and roll thing going on. Stormruler obviously has that Scandinavian melodic black metal thing and Harkonin has more of a death metal thing. So if I write a good death metal riff, I might give it to Harkonin and if I write a good, speedy rock and roll riff, I might get the Bastard. Most of the time I'm writing Stormruler stuff.
You actually play the drums in both of those bands but are the guitarist/vocalist in Stormruler. As a multi-instrumentalist, how fun is it to shift your talents by playing different instruments in different bands?
I love it, it keeps things interesting and keeps it fresh. Even with Bastard, me and Scott, we do all the writing in that band. So I'm still writing guitar riffs and stuff for that band. I write all the lyrics for that band as well. Which is fun because I'm primarily a drummer, that's what I started on and have been doing that for the longest. And I actually play drums in every project that isn't Stormruler. Stormruler really just happens to be the one that worked out.
Is Stormruler received pretty well in the Midwest and what's the scene like around your area in St. Louis? Are there a lot of venues that book bands with original material?
I’d like to think that we're accepted rather well now. Black Metal in general, especially in St. Louis has a stigma. A lot of people don't like black metal in St. Louis. But I think there's very few black metal bands that ever really have been in St. Louis. But I think us coming around and really demanding, if you will, the respect. Because black metal is a genre that when done right, is absolutely at the top of musical prowess. Now, in St. Louis, black metal’s pretty prominent. Especially like in Chicago, in the Midwest, black metal is starting to get a lot of traction. As far as venues and things in St. Louis, Covid-19 had a big impact on that. And then obviously, we had Fubar closed down, which was going to be closing down anyway, but it closed down earlier than expected. But Bob Fancher, the owner of that place, opened up Red Flag, which is three times the size of Fubar. It's getting packed out all the time now and that's where Cannibal Corpse just played last time they were through; Obituary played there. The Ready Room down on the Grove closed because of Covid-19. But they just recently reopened at a new location on the Grove. That's actually where we're going to be doing our CD release party next month. There’s an outdoor stage. There's the South Broadway Athletic Club, which is a bigger spot more of a VFW/DIY spot and The Sinkhole, which is a smaller punk spot. So we've got quite a few venues we can play now. The St. Louis music scene right now is absolutely crushing it. There's a bunch of sick bands here.
Since the band is fairly new, what do you feel like accomplishing or how far would you like to take Stormruler?
We'll take it as far as we can possibly push it. We’re getting ready to go over to Europe in the spring with Cannibal Corpse and Dark Funeral. We never really expected that when we were writing for Under A Burning Eclipse. This band was just made to write a record and that was it. But we love doing it. We love playing live with this band. This music is incredibly busy, but it’s super fun to play. I love being able to just drag whatever friends I want along with this. Because it's just me and Jesse and if we want to switch out guitar players at some point, we can. We can always bring out the homies and go hang and all that fun stuff. I don't see us slowing down anytime soon.
Sacred Rites & Black Magick released October 14th via Napalm Records.