Vale of Pnath Talks Upcoming “Accursed” EP
In the ever-shifting and highly varied landscape of modern death metal, the surest trademark of a band’s endurance is their ability to remain consistent as their sound continues to progress and evolve into different techniques and experimentations. Year after year, hyper-specific niche interpretations of the genre rise to prominence and intertwine with older styles to create novel combinations; any group that holds too closely to one fad or trend will inevitably fall out of favor with savvy listeners, becoming stale despite their remarkable talent.
Prior to the contemporary wave of OSDM-revival currently sweeping the nation, a slew of incredibly technical and progressive death metal bands reigned supreme on the cutting-edge of the genre, enthralling listeners with cosmic/existential themes, grandiose compositional structure, and undeniable virtuosity. One of the quintessential groups to strike sonic gold during this tidal wave of progressivism was Colorado’s Vale of Pnath. Effortlessly weaving together melodeath, prog, and tech-death all with the whimsical Lovecraftian themes that so perfectly defined that era, Vale of Pnath found themselves among the lofty ranks of groups such as Virvum, Rivers of Nihil, and First Fragment, and others.
Though Vale of Pnath's earliest origins trace back to 2006 with a series of more straightforward, bare-bones death metal releases, their evolution into a full-fledged prog-tech outfit occurred naturally and gradually from the release of their first full-length Prodigal in 2011 to the inimitable II, released in 2016.
Now, with the release of their upcoming Accursed EP, it appears that Vale of Pnath has once again made a sharp yet carefully measured stylistic turn, offering their own unique perspective on the modern shift; by eschewing the neoclassical, fantasy-based aesthetics of II to instead focus on a more raw, blackened sound, the band has demonstrated their thorough understanding of the greater direction of metal as a whole as it grows more grim, primal, and disillusioned across its vast sea of subgenres.
Last week, I was graced with the opportunity to sit down with all five of Vale of Pnath’s members simultaneously at the Marquis Theater in Denver, where later that night they would open an incredible show headlined by Kalmah and Vreid; this was to be a momentous occasion, as this tour marked both latter groups' first-ever American run. I met with Vale of Pnath before the opening of the venue’s doors in order to have enough time to truly dig into matters piquing my interests concerning the markedly different approach they had taken to their forthcoming Accursed EP. Given their 13 years of existence as an outfit, I found it remarkable that they could continue to innovate in unprecedented directions without abandoning the core musicality by which they are still defined. I wanted to understand the motives behind the newfound shift in their sound – what inspired it, what defined it, and what their musical intention would be going forward.
It’s been about 13 years now since this outfit originally formed. How has Vale of Pnath changed as an entity in the time since you’ve formed, and in the interval of time since the release of II in 2016?
Vance Valenzuela: I guess I’m the only original member left, until Eric [Brown] came in between Prodigal and II. I was writing a lot of the music back then, so from Prodigal to II, it was more of a collaborative effort between me and Eric and Reece [Deeter]. From then on, I feel like I kinda took more control after II and decided to go in a different direction and bring those blackened undertones we’ve always had in our music and bring them to the forefront.
Accursed does have a somewhat more blackened, darker aesthetic compared with II. Who or what influenced stylistically you to go in that direction?
Valenzuela: I’ve always been influenced by symphonic metal and black metal, that’s why we’ve always had those undertones in the writing. And I just wanted to experiment, I didn’t want to put out another album that sounded like II or previous releases. It was time for a change.
Eric Brown: Shit’s fucked up right now, so this is the best way to express that.
So Accursed is a sign of the times, then.
Deeter: I think when Vance showed me the album artwork for it, it really sparked a whole bunch of new ideas for it. We kinda had the idea to go evil and dark with it, but when we saw that it really set things off.
Specifically, what are the major themes of Accursed, both musically, lyrically, maybe psychologically?
Deeter: I tried to keep a lot with just tension and anxiety, I love that feel in metal, it just makes it build really intensely. A lot of it is just about anxiety and negativity, and evil stuff.
Accursed is a pretty long EP, it’s got seven tracks clocking in at 28 minutes. What drove the decision to do it as an EP rather than a full-length?
Valenzuela: I figured I wanted to have five really powerful songs versus potential filler or anything like that. I know that this is a new sound for us and I wanted it to be more of a segue into this new direction before releasing a full-length. It’s a nice way to ease especially older listeners that have loved the band from the start and kind of hint at what we’re doing before just flat-out releasing a full-length.
You recorded this album with Shane Howard; how many times have you worked with him?
Valenzuela: We used to work with Dave Otero, and he played in another band that Dave had recorded in the past, so that’s how we know him.
Could you talk about that process, and how your studio approach came together this time around?
Brown: Shane’s a lot less intense than Dave; Dave’s got his format, he knows exactly how to get what he wants out of bands. Shane is definitely professional, he definitely knows his stuff, but he’s very laid back. It was more of a casual thing. Shane’s also not extremely overworked like Dave is, so we had a little bit of leeway with the schedule. He’s pretty generous about doing revisions.
Valenzuela: It didn’t feel like a job going and tracking with him.
Brown: He also cooks really badass food.
I’m sure that helped with your energy and your spirits going in.
Deeter: He’s also a vocalist too, so doing vocals with him was really fun. He had a lot of cool ideas and really pushed me to do my best job, so that was really awesome.
More generally, what is it that you love about progressive and technical death metal, and what inspired that sound in Vale of Pnath?
Valenzuela: When I started the band back in the day, I was really obsessed with Necrophagist, Arsis… and I loved Arsis because they were combining that blackened sound with technicality. So that was what influenced me, and through the years we’ve done all kinds of different stuff, even with Accursed. This is a weird thing we haven’t done yet; I didn’t want to recreate II by doing classical stuff, and Prodigal is a bit more like straightforward death metal.
So you want to showcase a different side to your sound with every release?
Valenzuela: Definitely. And I feel like this is something that’s fresh in the scene now, blending these styles. There’s a lot of technical bands out there now that are not necessarily doing the same thing, but… there just needs to be a new edge to it.
There’s been a major explosion of new tech-death over the last four or five years. How have you seen the landscape of the scene change with that, and do you think this side of death metal is currently thriving, or is it stagnating?
Brown: I think it’s very much thriving. It’s not easy to play, and a lot of people like the challenge of maintaining that level of ability and trying to get to the next level. There’s always gonna be someone faster and better at what you’re doing, so if you can maintain your chops like that and also bring really strong songwriting to the table, I think that’s the ticket. People sort of start "over-teching" things, but if you dial that back just a little bit, just enough to make room for a good song, that’s where it’s at.
Valenzuela: The scene feels like a competition nowadays, more so than ever. Because there are so many bands now, you have to really set yourself apart. And I feel like that’s what we’ve done with this new EP, trying to add a whole new thing that most bands aren’t doing, and also kinda pulling back -- like Eric was saying -- on all the relentless tech riffs so we can just focus on the song itself instead of how technical it can be.
Brown: I think tech as a concept is probably born of the antithesis of djent (one string at a time) where tech is all the strings at the same time.
As far as the touring cycle for this record, where are you guys headed, announced and unannounced? Where are you trying to go?
Brown: Everywhere. We’ve got Devastation [on the nation], that’s most of the US with a handful of Canadian shows thrown in. There’s also an unannounced tour that’s coming up that’s mostly Canadian dates, and we’re still trying to sort out the rest of the year after that. Obviously we’re gonna tour a lot on it: we’ve got a lot of offers, it’s just about what’ll work out.
Well as far as your own tastes go, who have you guys been listening to lately? Do you have any new recommendations?
Valenzuela: New Vimur, for sure. New Anaal Nathrakh was pretty influential in the writing of this record.
Brown: As far as new bands go? Who’s that band, Hath? They just put out a record a couple weeks ago, it’s really fantastic. Warforged too, their new CD is coming out soon it’s really amazing.
Is there anything else you guys wanted to say, anything on your mind?
Brown: Keep it metal!
Valenzuela: I feel like if anyone is gonna listen to this new EP, since it is so different from our older material, I think it deserves a listen all the way through from start to finish, because it was very specifically written to be one piece. Each song was written in a very specific order.
Brown: Personally, I like it out of the gate, but it might be an acquired taste for some, especially those who like the really extreme tech elements. If you’re the kind of person that just dismisses stuff right away, no one’s gonna please you anyway.
Definitely different, but I love it so far. I don’t think fans will be mad. Perhaps just surprised.
Valenzuela: We’ve had really positive feedback for it already. I think people should have an open mind before they dismiss it.
Brown: Or not. Fuck you!