Witch Ripper Solves the “Icarus Equation” with High-Level Sludge (Track Premiere + Interview)
Witch Ripper’s upcoming sophomore LP The Flight After The Fall is a capital C concept album; a lofty science fiction story about the magnitude of life and devotion in the universe’s grander scheme that’s spliced between arena rock and sludge metal. Though we’re only premiering “Icarus Equation” today-you’ll have to wait until March for the full record–you can hear the narrative at play when comparing it to the first single from the record, “Enter the Loop.” For context, the former is the penultimate track on The Flight After The Fall while the latter opens the album. “Enter the Loop” builds excitement, but “Icarus Equation” trudges along, each step belabored, conflict pulsing from its core. The tonal difference denotes an internal shift for the protagonist. He reaches his moral quandary on this second single, though saying more would spoil too much.
Seattle-based Witch Ripper are beaten up on “Icarus Equation,” employing crushing, clocklike riffs and mile-high vocals to stress the situation’s severity. While other similar acts in the sludge metal-meets-progressive rock sphere tend to devolve and simplify over their lifespan, Witch Ripper thrive in the sweet spot between the genres. They don’t blend the styles so much as they squish them together, an effective approach given how proficient they are in both regards. They’re just as qualified to ignite with a chorus befitting the Blood of the Kings as they are to rummage through the mire.
Listen to “Icarus Equation” below and read an interview with guitarist/vocalist Curtis Parker.
What changed between recording your debut and The Flight After The Fall to influence its direction?
Curtis Parker: The biggest change between the albums is definitely that we had to let go of a member of the band which opened up a space for our new guitarist/singer Chad Fox to join. Musically the album was already written but Chad is a wonderful singer and with him in the band now we were really able to bring these big melodic moments up to where they needed to be. We tried to split the vocals 50/50 between harsh and melodic which we think really adds a lot of dynamic to the music. Musically we wanted to focus a little more on classic songwriting. We used to just write riff after riff and put them together to create these banger-heavy songs but with this album, I wanted to have big chord sections and musical progressions to break up the riff fest.
I hear bits of Seattle’s musical lineage in your work. How would you say your environment and hometown have shaped Witch Ripper?
Parker: We definitely have some local influences. Botch and These Arms are Snakes played a huge part in our bassist Brian's musical upbringing. Chad and I grew up really loving bands like Alice in Chains, the Melvins and Soundgarden. I'm probably biased but I feel like Seattle has one of the best (and too often ignored) heavy music scenes in the country. Absolutely killer bands across the spectrum from death/black metal to stoner doom and trad metal. Metal shows here are almost always packed with the best fans and all the bands here crush it. It definitely inspires us as artists to not just put out albums but really try to raise our game every time.
I’d love to hear more about The Flight After The Fall story conception. There are a handful of high-concept story elements going on but you guys sound so laid back that it works.
Parker: Oh, man. How much time do you have? It is a concept album and the abridged version of the story is a scientist trying to save his wife from a terminal disease decides to leave a decaying earth to go off into space with her in order to be left alone to do his work. He goes through it emotionally and basically loses his mind in the process of trying to save her. He finally accepts his fate and floats into a black hole where he has the choice to live his adventure again and again or decide that his fate cannot be changed. Simple stuff really... We're all big Sci-Fi fans here and the idea of writing a concept album that has a few rock opera moments has always been a dream. We describe ourselves as serious music made by not-so-serious humans. Pretty laid back for sure but I actually have our entire discography mapped out in one shared universe and timeline so its a little crazy but we love it that way.
What brought about the increased use of synths on tracks like “Ïcarus Equation” and “Everlasting in Retrograde Parts 1 and 2?” They add quite a bit to the drama of the tracks, it seems.
Parker: A lot of it comes from loving the big wall of sound recordings of the 60's and 70's. If you listen to ELO or Bowie from that era they had a million instruments on each tack and we wanted to do our own spin on that. The strings I thanked popped out for you and that mainly comes from wanting more drama in the music as well as loving early smashing pumpkins. Billy Corgan had a ton of strings on those albums and I've always loved that.
Witch Ripper’s presentation is pretty humorous, but there’s a grittiness to your music. How does your playfulness work into how you compose your music?
Parker: I just think we can't hide that fact that we are idiots at heart. We're not the "never smile, music is pain" kind of people. To try and be serious "artists" all the time would be fake to us. I think what that allows us to do is take risks in our music. Yes, at the end of the day we are a metal band and we want the music heavy but if there are moments in the songs that need a little tongue 'n cheek we don't feel like we have to shy away from that.
The Flight After The Fall concludes with your longest and most progressive track “Everlasting in Retrograde Parts 1 and 2.” How did you feel about going after such an ambitious track?
Parker: I fucking love that song and it's my favorite track on the album. It was a challenge we were excited about and wanted to take. The big thing for us in making a 16 minute track is that it can't drag. It really has to flow well and never feel like "fuck this song goes on forever". I hope we pulled that off. Part 1 has a similar shape to Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper where it actually start playing the form backwards once you reach the middle of the prog bridge which was fun to mess with and Part 2 is probably the biggest moment on the album. Tried to capture the feeling of Ozzy's "No More Tears" meets Faith no More's "Epic" which probably makes no sense to the listener but that was where my brain was at with it.
You guys toe the line between arena-ready anthems and proggy sludge without compromise. As such, how important do you think catchiness is to your craft?
Parker: I feel like songs should be catchy for sure. Obviously different elements are catchy to different people. Even grindcore and BM usually have catchy parts just not usually melodically catchy. For us. I really wanted repeated vocal melodies and big heavy riffs that people hand bang to easily. The best example to me is the end of the Icarus Equation. Chad starts the vocals after the bridge over one chord progression and as the progression changes from minor to major and grows the vocals actually pretty much stay the same in phrasing and melody. Little tricks like that I love and will always sneak in our music.
On a similar note, there seems to be a tipping point where bands get too catchy or airy for some people’s ears (I’m specifically thinking of Mastodon’s “Show Yourself”), yet you have the perfect blend of cleanliness and sludge. Do you ever think there’s a challenge to maintaining the balance between those two aspects?
Parker: Everything needs to be done with intention and should invoke real emotion. I think listeners can pick up on that. We won't ever shoe horn in a catchy part. They have to come naturally and really help the song in a meaningful way. Part of the reason it takes us longer to write albums is because if I don't feel like a riff is has intention the part will be rewritten.
Which aspect of The Flight After The Fall are you most proud of?
Parker: I'm just happy we seemingly managed to pull it off. We're a small band that had a lofty goal. We didn't have a giant studio budget but we wanted to make this huge layered concept album. There's a lot in there and I think its an album people can listen to multiple times and find new things with. There's so much music coming out everyday so I hope people can find this album and give it a real listen. We think it will really surprise people when they dive into it.
Parker also adds:
This was the first song written for the new album. I think we rewrote the ending six times before we landed on what's on the record, and we're incredibly happy with how that ending turned out. Icarus Equation also has the best representation of how our two vocalists can not only juxtapose against other but come together in unison like we do on the bridge. In the story of the album, this song represents loss. A loss of life and a loss of wanting to carry on. Our protagonist is at their lowest during this song. That being said, we wanted to show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel by ending on a giant major key ballad-style moment.
The Flight after the Fall releases March 3rd via Magnetic Eye Records.