Saturday 2 May 2015

A-Z of Doom: Catapult The Dead

Years Active: 2013- Present
Releases to date: 1
Genre: Atmospheric Doom
Associated Labels: Unsigned

Catapult The Dead

When I quite uniformly suggested I would talk about a different band in this feature every couple of weeks, herein is the problem, with all the best will in the world, I want to continue to find time to write articles about some of my favourite artists from the past, present and future, however the underlying obstacle is fundamentally my life outside of ‘The Sludgelord’ but also ‘The Sludgelord’ itself.  Perhaps my family would argue that there is a very narrow boundary between where my editorial responsibility for the blog ends and family commitments begin, however I like to think they are somewhat symbiotic, in the sense that they co-exist together.  Aaron I am, after all.  

One might say that it is a given that your family comes first, work second and everything else is a bonus and yet, the opportunity to do ‘The Sludgelord’ is something which plays a vital role in who I am and my motivation to get through good times and bad.  Indeed, given that the blog has grown exponentially over the years, with something close to 10 or more individuals submitting reviews often on a daily basis, my ability to often prioritise my own musings about music takes a sideline, in order to cope with the influx of new music.   So, that explains the reason for the delay of around 8 weeks, between today’s article and the previous entry.  It is worth mentioning, that writing is not always a fun experience for me and was/is a contributing factor in fewer and fewer articles from me.  I am first to acknowledge that I am not the most gifted writer, it is something that does not come naturally, and yet when there is a band that truly resonates with you, there is a desire to write or share your feelings about their music, whether it makes sense to people or not. 

One such band that makes sense is Catapult The Dead. A sextet from Oakland, they have been together for around 2 years, playing the style of music which could be broadly described as atmospheric doom.  Thematically their debut full length, ‘All is Sorrow’ feels very cinematic and is very layered production wise, driven as you’d expect from a massive sounding guitar tone, but what feels quite unique is the use of keyboard.  Indeed it is the use of keys which makes the band feel truly unique, giving their music a dynamic appeal.

A singular thirty-seven minute piece of music, ‘All is Sorrow’ was mastered by James Plotkin and what you get, is a truly moving experience.  What Catapult the Dead have managed to do in their short tenure, is to produce a progressive sounding doom record, which is oppressively heavy but is never idle, in the sense that it never repeats singular repetitious phrases of music.  ‘All is Sorrow’ is stylistically cinematic because it feels typical of how films are made, like there is one continuous story to be told, and it is always moving forward, evoking a sense that their music is a narrative to some macabre Lovercraftian tale. I feel it is a truly spectacular achievement and for that reason, Catapult the Dead is the third entry on my sonic quest to scale the A-Z of Doom.  Need more convincing?, here is what ‘The Sludgelord’ had to say about the record in October 2014

Beginning with an open and very slow organ progression with slow burning
background oscillations, when the guitars eventually kick in the minimal
rhythmic fury present a darkened atmosphere. The fury clipped vocals
perfectly complement the dirge like guitars. After a verse, the electrics fall out
and some pretty nice minimalist keys break in, the guitars come back and this
rhythm playing is my favorite on the album, with some serious menacing chug
under tremolo keys. A little deeper down the wormhole now, the vocalist Ben
Hiteman, changes styles into some black metal-esque screams/yells which is pretty badass. At about the seven minute mark, there’s a really unusual break that almost sounds like an outtake from Tomahawk, into another nice piano
arpeggio solo.

One of the main things that strikes me about “All Is Sorrow” is how expertly the
piece shift through it's sections, it covers vast amounts of stylistic and sonic
territory, but everything is smooth as glass and just fits. The “middle bridge”
section around the seventeen to nineteen minute mark is a perfect example
of this, the melodies get rhythmically deconstructed but still perfectly segue
into each other. Around the twenty-two minute mark we get the first section
that might sound like someone else, it echoes Twilight's last album and the
singer sounds a bit like Stavros from The Atlas Moth here. I would say these
couple of minutes from about the 21 minute mark up til the end are my
favorite parts of the album, just a deep groove and nice melodies with a huge
gradual build-up throughout. It really does get better as it goes deeper and
deeper, what a fucking great album!! These guys better tour.

At around the 32:40, there is some absolutely fantastic drumming with some
pulsating tom patterns, signalling we are approaching the end. The slow build
over these drums is hugely intense and the layering here is pretty epic. A
fitting close to such an epic record.

In closing I would like to quote Morpheus from The Matrix, “Unfortunately, no
one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”  If you
substitute Catapult the Dead for the Matrix in this quote, it quite accurately
summarizes the album. Reading this review is one thing but a work this
compelling must be heard for yourself as there really isn't anything quite like it.
Completely worth just buying, check it out below.

Finally, can I offer an apologise to the band, they kindly submitted an awesome interview, which has been sat dormat in draft form since forever. The intention to publish has always been there and yet as more time elapsed, the less likely it seemed it was going to happen.  So, this article is in some way, my attempt to make amends to the band and whilst some of the answers from the original interview may not be as relevant, given that it is around 6 months old, I have decided to include it at the end of this article article. 

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 2/04/2014
Label: Self Release

Catapult the Dead are:
  • Dan Brownson | Bass (Also features in the band, Fathomless, an atmospheric black metal band, who have released one record to date

  • Thomas Lilliston | Guitars (There is mention of being attached to the band Awake the Plague, but there is no information about this band)

  • Emad Dajani | Guitars (Emad also plays drums for Abstracter, he has featured on 2 full length records, most recently on the quite excellent ‘Wound Empire’

  • Garrick O’Connor | Guitars, piano

  • Ben Hiteman | Vocals

  • Patrick Spain | Drums (Current Drummer, but did not feature on this record)
  • Ryan Thompson | Drums (Played on the record)

‘All Is Sorrow’ DD//CS//LP track listing:
1) All is Sorrow (37:03)

Album Details

‘All is Sorrow’ is the band’s debut full length and is intended to be played as one continuous track.  In case you’re of a breed that tends to listen to singular tracks as opposed to full length records. The record also comes in a digital format which is separated into 6 different movements.  The record was self funded, written, recorded and produced by the band.  This was an independently released record, meaning it was done DIY, issued on limited cassette and vinyl, which can be purchased directly from the band’s bandcamp site.  12" vinyl version of "All Is Sorrow” includes cover Artwork by Coven Illustrations and an illustrated and numbered lyric booklet illustrated by Nick Sandy. 160g vinyl pressed on 100% virgin vinyl 250 Black and 250 "Splatter Hash" colored vinyl.

Words by: Aaron Pickford
Review by: Chris Tedor

For more information:

Interview with Ben Hiteman and Emad Dajani

(SL) Guys, welcome to the Sludgelord and summarise 2014 so far and tell us about your immediate plans for the rest of the year?

Emad) At the beginning of the year we were working hard to complete the
recording of ‘All Is Sorrow’. Our first drummer, Ryan, had to part ways with us
because he was attending grad school and needed to focus on that. We
had already had his drums tracked and most of the guitars done, so we took
that as an opportunity to really focus on getting the album completed.  As the
album was nearing completion, we brought our new drummer Kyle into the
picture and started playing shows again.

We'd been hitting the bay area pretty hard trying play out as much as
possible, but unfortunately Kyle recently parted with the band  so
he could dedicate more time to his other musical ventures. Thanks to social
networking we were able to painlessly find what in my opinion is the best fit on
drums that we have had in our new drummer and friend Patrick Spain. We've
also been working hard on new material and we would love to have a new
album complete for next year. Our plans for the rest of the year are to
continue working Patrick in and hopefully play a couple of shows by February

(SL) Before we get onto the good stuff, (vinyl release), Can you perhaps give us an idea of the roots behind the band? Who are you, that kind of thing? It is your opportunity to tell the world about yourselves. Summarise your musical journey to this point

Ben) We've all been in other bands around and known each other through
the various projects. We just kind of fell together. I had been trying to put
together a sludgy doom project for a while. Gary, Emad, and I got together
after an older defunct project we were in went south. We got some basic
ideas down and started building from there. It took some time to get the right
group of guys together. With 6 guys it is imperative we all are on the same
page or it quickly turns into a jumbled mess of everyone playing over each
other and not together.

(SL) ‘All is Sorrow' is your debut full length and was released back in April, what can you tell us about the release and what are your overall thoughts about your debut vinyl release because it's a comprehensive package released digitally, on cassette and 2 editions on vinyl.

Ben) It definitely took a lot of time and effort to put it together. The digital release was certainly not a priority. Being addicted to records, I really just
wanted to release my own record. I feel like there is something missing with
digital only music. I feel really strongly about releasing on a physical medium,
though, digital music is where I typically figure out what to buy I suppose. The
resurgence of cassettes has caught me by surprise. But, when you think about
it, it is extremely cost effective. You can pick up a tape player at most thrift
stores for under 10 and most bands sell tapes for 5 bucks or less. You can be
set up for a pretty damn cheap. That's important when you are living off
raman noodles.

(SL). In terms of the music, ‘All is Sorrow' is one whole piece of music and is intended to be heard that way.  How was the writing process?  Was it written as individual songs that you would fit together, or more emphasis on an improvised jam? 

Ben) We had the overall idea of one piece with multiple movements in the
beginning. It was more ideologically like writing a soundtrack than writing a
song. We had some pieces ready when we went into the practice studio, but
a good amount was improvised on the spot as well. I'd say writing the key
changes with smooth transitions were the most trying part for sure.

(SL) How long was the gestation of your new/current opus from conception to delivery?  

Emad) From conceptualization of the piece to the digital release of ‘All Is
Sorrow’ was just under 2 years. I would say it took us about 8 or 9 months to
completely compose the piece and to get a full line-up together. We played
our first couple of shows then we began the recording process. The recording
process took us a lot longer than any of us anticipated. From the day we
tracked the drums to the day we sent it off to get mastered by James Plotkin
was nearly 1 year. With the exception of drums and piano, the entire record
was recorded in my bedroom studio. We didn't have any deadlines, and we
weren't paying for studio time so we were able to take as much time as
possible and be as nit picky as possible, probably to fault. 

(SL) As music fans yourselves and given that music seems to be so disposal at times.  Did you approach the vinyl release with trepidation or were you confident that you would produce a product you could be proud of?

Ben) Ultimately, we just wanted to make music that we were proud of. I didn't
give a shit if I ended up with a garage full of my shitty ol' record. It just seemed
like what we had to do. Some people thought we were crazy (still do) when
they heard vinyl/cassettes. I personally will not buy a digital album only. I
appreciate what goes into a physical copy and can only hope others do as
well. So far, it's been very positive and I'm glad we went that way.

(SL) Your decision to release on vinyl was vindicated by being named Pirate Press ‘Record of the Week’, that was obviously pleasing for you, but did you have a clear vision in mind and did you ever feel it was a risk given than you did it yourselves? 

Ben) Well, there is only one way to learn. Dive right in and hope you don't
drown. There are 6 of us. We can share the cost and it's not too backbreaking.
If we come out even I'm more than happy.

(SL) Taking the vinyl release out of the equation for a moment, what are your thoughts about the record now? You wrote, recorded and produced yourselves, self released it, is there anything you would change looking back?

Ben) Everything haha. We learned a ton along the way, but, we are still
learning every day. A lot of it is experimenting and trying new things. New
gear, new mics, new pre-amps, access to new rooms, ect… It all has a huge
difference in the outcome of the end result. We could have paid a shit ton to
go somewhere, but, it would have also cost us what we learned in the
process. No, it's not the most pristine sounding recording ever produced but
I'm satisfied with the final product. The fact that we would do this or that
differently motivates us for the next release. We're all pretty excited to get
these new tracks ready.

Emad) I am proud of the record we produced, but there are a million things I
would have done differently now. We are all better musicians today then
when we started and I know that Ben and I would agree that we are much
better sound engineers now too. The process of writing, recording, and
producing All Is Sorrow taught us all a great deal. That's the beautiful part
about being in a band; now we get to take all that knowledge and bring it to
our next release. 

(SL) What would be the ‘goal' for Catapult The Dead as a band and thoughts on the emergence of the whole ‘doom' scene and its increasing popularity?  Bigger labels seem to picking up bands too, is that something that is attractive to you as a band?

Ben)  We just want to make music we feel passionate about. To be able to do
that, and to actually find an audience for what we are passionate about, is
incredible. As far as bigger labels are concerned, I don't see us quitting our
day jobs any time soon. It would be nice to have label support, though I
picture us maybe fitting better into a smaller niche label.

Emad) That's the dream right? Honestly we'd all love to not have to go to work
and be able to sustain ourselves playing music, but that's not why we do this.
We do this because we all have the desire to create. We plan on shopping
the next album, once it's finished, to some independent labels and see what
comes of it. If a bigger label would like to work with us, we would definitely be
willing to negotiate with them.

(SL) Tell us some of your influences/heroes both musically and artistically, both metal and non-metal? Was their a specific band or artist turned you guys onto music and specifically introduced you to Heavy Metal/Rock and wanting to form a band?

Ben) Thinking back, music has always been a big part of my life. I remember
sitting in the basement as a child going through my parents' old record
collection. James Brown was definitely one of my early favourite artists. Later I
got into Zeppelin, Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and The Doors. I'll never forget when
"And Justice for All" came out. That was a big game changer for me. Heavy
music became a big interest from there. Though I don't think I ever actually
realistically thought about being in a band until later around when I heard
Sepultura's "Chaos AD". The first band I was in just kind of happened. A bunch
of us nerdy metalheads would sit around listening to tunes while smoking pot
after school. A couple buddies were learning guitar, then another buddy got
a drum set, and bam. It quickly progressed into some smoke filled jam
sessions. We were playing parties and shows in no time. So I guess ultimately I
could thank marijuana.

Emad) My biggest turning point in music came when I was in middle school
and discovered The Offspring. That was the first "heavy" music (compared to
what I had been listening to) I fell in love with. That opened the doorway for
bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath. I didn't start playing
music until later in life. I was 18 when I bought my first drum set back when I
was listening to a lot of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and Soilwork and was
really into the whole Gothenburg scene. That's around when I first started
playing drums in bands. Up until Catapult I had never played guitar for a band, so that's something that's still relatively new to me.

(SL) Using those influences as a reference point, Did they form the basis for the direction you wanted to take the band and how you approached writing for CTD?

Ben) I don't really know. I think it was more of a sub-conscious journey for me.
At first I wanted to play fast, aggressive, straight-up metal. I did that and
eventually got bored with the style and wanted to do something different. I
had gradually started looking for something else not knowing what.

Emad) My musical tastes over the years have changed so much, with the only
constant being heaviness. I'm sure the influence of a little of everything I have
listened to has made its way into my writing.

(SL) What attracted you to ‘doom' music per se and that particular style of music with reference to your own sound? In short what is it about the doom sound that made CTD perhaps want to emulate that?

Ben) I'll say, I hated slow-heavy music growing up. I thought it was boring and
didn't understand it. All I wanted was amped-up, fast, aggressive metal. One
day, in my later teens, it just all of a sudden clicked for me. I remember seeing
Neurosis live and it was fucking terrifying. The heaviest thing I had ever seen
ever. Slow menacing wave of powerful movements. Like Godzilla ripping
through, devastating a city in slow motion. That changed how I looked at
heavy music.

Emad) For me, metal always had to be fast, technical, and melodic, but the
first time I saw Neurosis live it changed everything. It was absurdly heavy, and
yet it wasn't double bass driven and it was slow. It basically changed my
entire perspective of what playing "Metal" had to be. When we were writing
All Is Sorrow we weren't trying to emulate any sort of sound, we went in with
the goal of writing something heavy and devastatingly dark, while playing
slower and creating soundscapes with many layers. I would say that the
"Doom" tag didn't come until later, and honestly I don't think any of even
knew how to classify our music until people started calling us a doom band. 

(SL)  How is the ‘heavy' scene in Oakland at the moment, it has a rich history?

Ben) I'm a transplant, I moved out here about 9 years ago or so from Ohio. I
loved the scene in Cincy and Dayton. There was and is still a lot happening
there. But, the Bay Area has quickly become one of my favourite places.  I
find myself missing more shows than I can make it to (and I'm at a show
typically at least twice a week or more). It's a constant barrage of crushing
touring and local bands. One of my favourite things is that a lot of the shows
are not your typical bar shows, but, DIY all ages venues. It's pretty rad to see
getting to see a band like Noothgrush absolutely destroy a small house party.

Emad) I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area my whole life and I've been
playing shows out here for over a decade. It's been an amazing journey
seeing the progression of the music scene out here. Right now I would say
Oakland is an epicentre for the Doom/Sludge/Stoner/Crust/Grind scene. But
more importantly there is a lot happening in Northern California outside of the
Bay Area with some pretty rad scenes popping up in places like Sacramento
and Santa Cruz. We are just lucky to be so close to so much that's happening
and to be surrounded by so many amazing bands coming out of this area.

(SL) I'm assuming all musicians like to talk about the gear they use, so with that in mind what do you guy use in terms of guitars, amps and why? Also what tuning do you use?

Emad) An interesting thing about Catapult is that we all play in different
tunings. I play a 7-string Ibanez S7 tuned to drop G# out of an Orange
Thunderverb 50 with an Orange 4x12. Tom plays a 7 string ESP LTD SC607 tuned
to B standard out of an Orange Rocker 30 with a Mesa 4X12. Dan plays a
Peavy P-Bass copy modded with a Rickenbacker Pickup and a high-mass
bridge tuned to B Standard out of a Mesa Boogie D-180 Head into a Sunn
2000S 2X15. Garrick plays a Fender Telecaster tuned to E standard out of a
fender Cyber-twin head through a Fender 4X12. Patrick just bought his sick DW
drum kit into the rehearsal studio with Paiste Signature Series Cymbals.

(SL) Has their been much opportunity for CTD to do live shows and is playing live important to CTD, because touring can depend upon work commitments etc?

Ben) Live is the best way to experience our music by far. Touring is tough for us, but, luckily there are a ton of great places within a few hours. We're dying to get out and hit Oregon and Washington as well as some Southern California dates soon

SL) How valuable are blogs and social media?

Ben) They are huge! We didn't expect to get any response from overseas and were hoping for a small push from the states, but, we have sold more records and tapes (by far) outside of the US. Our only connection at all is social media and blogs. The internet has certainly changed things.

(SL) Quick fire question, what's your preference? Cassette, CD, Digital Download or Vinyl? And why? 

Ben) Vinyl for sure. Mainly because of the warm sound quality, and overall
aesthetic with the large format artwork . MP3's changed how I was listening to
music. It was more scattered and a song at a time. It really started to feel like
someone with a short attention span changing the tv remote constantly. It
really did start to feel disposable. I remember when listening to cassettes or
even CD's, we would typically play through an entire album at a time. There is
something about taking in the entire album as a piece that makes it seem
different to me. You really get to know an artist's album differently that way.

Emad) Digital Download. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love listening to
vinyl and the quality can't be matched, but the ease of having your entire
music collection in your pocket is amazing. I have long commutes to and
from work and band rehearsals so that's when I have the opportunity to listen
to music.

(SL) Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, you got anything you like to say to your fans and what can we expect from CTD in the future, new record? Tours?

Ben) Thanks for having us Aaron. Hopefully both! We are working hard on this
new material and are very pumped on the way it is sounding. There is a lot of
good on the horizon.