Seven Gates of Hell with CLOVEN ALTAR

28. listopadu 2016 v 21:11 | RaznAgul |  seven gates of hell interviews
The aim of the open series of the blogzine´s Seven Gates of Hell interviews is to introduce the bands and their music that struck my metalhead´s heart and soul recently. In seven questions, the gates are open for those who make their music of true metal spirit, pure dedication and of what I understand as underground approach and aesthetics.

The good old heavy days anew resound from the debut album "Demon of the Night" banged out by the promising band of CLOVEN ALTAR. The base of the altar to worship classic heavy metal sound was built four years ago, when Dustin Umberger gathered up the fertile ideas spawned in his former and then already disbanded Spellbinder and reached to the sworn-like devotee Cederick Forsberg, residing in distant Sweden. Regardless the distance, the close music affinity and shared tastes of the two musicians clang perfect together to bring to live first an eponymous three-track EP and late in 2015 their bashing premier full-length. For the interview, I gave a high seven to Dustin, the band's vocalist and prime composer.

I. With CLOVEN ALTAR you come from a variety of music scenes, drawing on a legacy of traditional British heavy metal, being embedded in the American environment of the new wave of classic heavy metal and acknowledging a strong influence of punk rock' s melodic charisma. Would you elaborate on each of these aspects that shaped the birth of the band?
"Certainly! I've listened to metal for a very long time, but punk rock has also played a very big role in shaping the way I relate to and understand music. I actually started playing guitar at age 26 which is pretty late. To make up for lost time, I learned songs that were easy and based on power chords. "Commando" by Ramones was the first song I learned to play. After that I realized that I could write my own songs, but I wasn't confident or experienced enough to try writing metal yet so I stuck with punk and formed a band called The Sprains. Eventually I started to write metal songs by using punk formulas and structures with more metal sounding melodies. The NWOBHM sound is a good template for me because it also has roots in punk and the songwriting is very straightforward. I love that aspect of NWOBHM, so I wanted to incorporate that into the sound as well as the types of metal I love the most. Power and speed metal are some of my favorite styles, and Cederick enables me to capture the best elements of those styles while retaining a distinct sound that is strongly influenced by punk. I also have a punk rock solo project called Grim Deeds that incorporates all of my tastes in both punk and metal, but the playing is very stripped down because that's how I play!"

II. On your debut album you used some of the songs and ideas from your former band Spellbinder. How much did CLOVEN ALTAR depart from the style, sounding and ambitions of your preceeding music endeavours?
"I knew that Spellbinder had something special, but unfortunately the timing wasn't right for Mike and Lauren and I to continue. So, I basically took the same ideas and just renamed the band - Mike (Spellbinder drummer) came up with that name, too. I recorded the demo alone with a drum machine and thought that was about as far as it would go, but after Cederick and Iordan from StormSpell Records got involved I was able to achieve a level of quality that far surpassed my original expectations. For that I am very grateful!"

III. In the eighties the heavy metal scene was more local based and solid than nowadays. With all the advantages of the modern communication means, it is not surprising that metal bands today, CLOVEN ALTAR including, can exist on a more global scheme. Anyway, why did you choose a maybe less comfortable option of engaging Ced from the distant abroad, instead of looking for some kindred spirits for the band's line-up in your local place?
"This is a very good question. To be honest, I find working with Cederick via email much easier than the traditional approach of rehearsing with local guys. Ced and I share many common goals and inpirations for playing music, and our personalities are a good match for working together. This can be very difficult to find in general! When I work with him it feels very comfortable and natural, so I have no reason to complain. Besides, I am a fan of his music so I also get to work with someone who inspires me! His playing level and songwriting skills are very impressive, and very few people are as talented or as prolific as him. Another reason I prefer this arrangement is due to my lifestyle and personal schedule. I work full time as a teacher, and I am a new father so I have very limited time and money for things like rehearsal space rent, scheduling and attending practices, booking shows, etc. My wife is not that supportive of my music hobby anyway, so I basically have to do things however I can make them work! I am determined to continue, though. So don't worry! The next CLOVEN ALTAR record is in progress right now."

IV. Thematically, your debut album is highly varried. It builds on images of the lost fantasy worlds ("Blood of the Elves") endangered by apocalyptic prospects of the present reality ("The Mythic Age"), images of ominous darkened mysticism ("Demon of the Night", "Forsaken Path") and even "archetype" legend stories ("Prince of Hell", inspired by the Faustian plotline). Which of these are the closest to the esence of CLOVEN ALTAR?
"This is another great question! Since the beginning I wanted the lyrics for CLOVEN ALTAR to have a certain mystical feeling, but nothing generic or overused. I decided to also incorporate some of my personal thoughts on human nature and our destiny. Instead of writing with an obvious message, I tried on the debut album to weave my themes into stories that could evoke an image, almost like a movie playing in your mind. I am interested in the greater questions of life's meaning and our purpose as humans, so there will probably always be a philosophical side to my songs. On the other hand, heavy metal can also be an outlet for pure fun and I think on the next album you will find more examples of this - a carefree approach on certain songs that may surprise some listeners."

V. The album's last two songs take on a salient epic guitar sounding, departing quite conspicously from the straight heavy riffs and rougher phrasing of the most of the tracks on the recording. Do you see some more potential in that kind of picturesque guitar playing for the next course of CLOVEN ALTAR's music?
"Ah yes, Ced is an outstanding guitarist and composer so I do expect his soloing and riffing will continue to soar on future recordings. The songs I write for CLOVEN ALTAR begin in a rather basic form (main riffs, verses and choruses, bridge part, and so on). Ced builds on these demos and adds a whole new dimension of fullness and color with his playing. When you hear basic heavy riffs, those are most likely my own - but Ced brings my songs to life in ways that really define what the CLOVEN ALTAR sound has become. This includes his drumming and bass playing!"

VI. From now and then you tease your fans with titbit infos about your second album. What is the state of things today concerning your next recording and when the time gets ripe enough for its release?
"Thank you for asking! As of today, there are 11 songs for the new album. We will only keep the best ones, but already there are more than last time. Ced has already recorded all guitar tracks and bass for the songs, and I have sent him vocals for all of the songs. There is usually a period of listening and refining that will take place - I expect Ced will want me to re-do some of the vocals which is normal. The final step will be recording drums and then we'll be ready to soar! Iordan from StormSpell has already offered a few ideas for album covers. We haven't made final decisions yet for the title or artwork but those will come later. I will continue to post Facebook updates, and I am predicting a summer release for the album. That gives us plenty of time to finish up."

VII. Many heavy metallers of yore cherish an attitude that heavy metal is not just music but also a life style. What does a heavy metal life style mean to you personally?
"Again, a very excellent question. I have often struggled with the idea of a heavy metal lifestyle, mainly because I am not able to express myself by growing my hair long and wearing a battle vest and leather jacket every where I go. If I did, I would alienate the majority of the people in my life including colleagues and family. I've had to basically accept that my normal and very un-metal appearance is actually the one that comes most naturally. I have been obsessed with heavy metal music for almost my whole life, and at age 36 I have enough metal knowledge and experience to challenge any poseur! I suppose the heavy metal life to me means living honestly and being your own person, which is also how I would characterize the punk philosophy. I strive to be a kind and humble person who works hard and meets my obligations, but it's very important to also have personal goals. To reach your personal goals on your own terms without caring about trends and acceptance - that is the heavy metal way. Heavy metal gives me something to look forward to each day and saves me from feeling trapped by the negative experiences in life. I don't claim to be religious, but I do believe that heavy metal music has a certain spirit that satsifies and inspires me in ways that are completely unique from other forms of music including punk. That feeling of community and empowerment is very special to me, so I will always honor heavy metal as a fan and as an artist."

Thanks a lot for this interview and your captivating, honest music! My full and everlasting support to your heavy metal endeavours!


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