Thorn: A Voyage into the “Yawning Depths” (Interview)
Arizona is a place of many horrors, from the desert'’s alternating scorching heat and windswept chill to the state’s lunar landscapes of perilously stacked rocks. Hidden among these striking features are countless nooks and crannies that lend themselves to hiding out and losing your way. On Phoenix-based Thorn’s second full-length, Yawning Depths, Brennen Westermeyer heeds the call of the below, plunging into the void with epic production and enough abyssal ambience to call the listener ever further into subterranean realms. This is an album for those wishing to get lost on purpose.
We covered Westermeyer's potato chip death-doom last spring. While Yawning Depths still trades in shorter songs and barrelling riffs that seldom slow their malignant march downward, tracks like "Lapis Lazuli" offer the record a more geologic eye. The ominous vocals belie a certain atonal beauty here, hints of which are found elsewhere. Like a geode amidst the scree, "Lapis Lazuli" shows the rare laconic side of Thorn, which reaches into more cosmic territory despite the preponderance of chunky death metal on either side.
While the production on last June’s Crawling Worship did possess some of the grandiosity and spaciousness of Yawning Depths, it differs in application. The former is much more grounded in the midsection, while the latter rests on a solid foundation of low end, with the trebles arcing overhead. Westermeyer has shifted the reverb away from the vocals, lending more immediacy and centrality while using the guitar and rhythm section as an exoskeleton capable of bringing down walls.
Everything on Yawning Depths is just a touch louder and more threatening. Songs such as "Cavernous Shrines" are much closer to the listener, with Westermeyer's vocal delivery clearer while the atonal guitars echo around—if Encompassing Nothing was a chase scene, Yawning Depths is the boss battle. This digital metaphor perhaps feels apt because of the touches of synth-like ambience, occasional stutter edits, and the aforementioned wall of reverb that gives Yawning Depths its, well, depth. Opener "Hellmouth" is among the best examples of these flourishes, with choppy guitar, layered vocals, and the haunting overtones that create color amid the bleakness. Meanwhile, closer "Graven Moonglow," among the doomier songs on the record, offers no escape as it returns to effected guitars and ominous melodic background. The album is thus a closed loop of horrors—there’s little hope to be found on Yawning Depths.
Given the relatively short gestation time between records, it's clear Westermeyer has been tinkering with these soundscapes record by record. Thorn, after all, only released their first record in 2020 and has maintained a prolific schedule since. In that same time, Westermeyer has also performed vocal duties for industrial goregrind act Fluids on several singles, two splits, an EP, and a full-length. This is clearly a musician unfettered by inertia. Even for the "potato-chip" lengths of the tracks on Yawning Depths, it's clear Westermeyer has a lot more to say here and on whatever releases inevitably follow.
Curious about the process that’s gone into creating so much punishing death metal in such a relatively short span of time, I reached out to Westermeyer to ask about Yawning Depths, his process, and the connections between this project and Fluids. The following interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Yawning Depths comes just a year after your last full-length. How did you turn this LP around so quickly? Was there a link between this and Crawling Worship?
The Encompassing Nothing was written and recorded November 2019. Crawling Worship was written May to June 2020, and I sat on it for a while. Yawning Depths was written in March 2021. I usually sit on the material for a while to fine-tune and start brainstorming its release. I have another full-length entirely written and ready to be recorded; [I'm] just waiting for Yawning Depths to come out. I would say there's more of a link between The Encompassing Nothing and Crawling Worship. I see those two albums as two sides of the same coin, while Yawning Depths is a whole new coin entirely.
The production here has a really vast feel to it. While this is obviously death metal, it feels big, with synth-like tones and cavernous vocals. Tell me about the assembly of Yawning Depths and what goes into this gigantic sound.
For Yawning Depths, I had some different means of recording, got some better equipment, and tried to expand on my favorite songs from previous releases. The synth-like tones you mention are one of my favorite elements of the album because I feel it creates this ethereal and atmospheric vibe, which ties heavily into the lyrics. However, any sonic pleasantries you may hear must be all accredited to my friend Prey For Death Productions. We typically spend a month or two mixing, and spitball ideas back and forth. He's very dedicated to doing as much as possible with minimal ingredients, so in a way, the writing continues, even when we're in the mixing phase.
Were there any particular influences you tried to channel here, or is this project guided by something else?
Nothing in particular. Like I mentioned, I took elements of my favorite songs off of The Encompassing Nothing and Crawling Worship and tried to put a different spin on them, obviously to maintain any "sound" that can be attributed to Thorn, but also to serve as a second chance of doing it better than before.
I detect some Fluids-y effects on the guitars in Yawning Depths, but it’s still a really different beast from Not Dark Yet. How do you differentiate Thorn from what you put into Fluids?
Any Fluids-y similarities is pure coincidence. Jan from Fluids writes 100% of the guitar and bass for Fluids, while I write 100% of my own material. The only element of Fluids that I'm responsible for are lyrics and vocals. Regarding that, the lyrics I tend to write for Fluids are usually satirical or humorous in some way. I try to have as much fun with Fluids lyrics as possible, because Fluids is its own brand of fun, while for Thorn's lyrics, I tend to write things more ominous and bleak in their nature.
What are the biggest benefits and challenges in a solo project like this?
Benefits: 100% creative control. Challenges: 100% creative control. I like being able to do things my way because I don't like working with most other guitarists. However, I wouldn't mind a helping hand in some rare moments.
Can we ever expect to see a live show or any other forms of promotion for Thorn, or do you intend for this to remain a studio project? What else does the future hold?
It'll remain a studio project for the foreseeable future. However, I do have some potential members lined up if the right offer were to come my way. However, remaining a studio project allows for me to release as much material as possible, which was always my goal for a project.
After Yawning Depths, I have another full length release lined up for later this year. At least one split. And then back to writing for the next full length, and maybe some more splits. After that, I'll be assessing where Thorn is at, and decide the best path forward from there.
In addition to Fluids, I have two projects that I have not yet announced, but will announce them here, out of some optimism that the music will be released soon. Fluids has several new splits to be released in 2022. Paranoia Apparition: Deathgrind featuring the vocalist of Maul and the drummer from Drogheda. [There’s a] six-song EP coming soon via Gurgling Gore Records.
Crux: Hardcore/noise band formed from the ashes of an old band of mine. We have a five-song EP coming out mid-2022.