Despite our fascination with the dark side, there seems to have been an alternative strain of light-tinged metal stretching out from the fretboard, from the early doom-meanderings of Trouble’s “Psalm 9” to the yellow-and-black hair attack that was Stryper. One of the latest incarnations to walk the water of contemporary metal is America’s A HILL TO DIE UPON: not self-righteous preachers or fiery evangelists, but humble metalheads who are passionate about their metal. And this is our common denominator: in the same way that I can enjoy listening to Burzum even though I disagree with Varg on many fundamentals of belief. I caught up with one of A Hill To Die Upon’s founder members Michael Cook to discuss matters of metal:
Thanks for agreeing to the interview. For those who don’t know, AHTDU are from the USA, and genre descriptions of their music range from black metal to death metal to melodic death and melodic black. How would you actually describe your music?
Blackened death I think would be the closest we could come to pinning it down. We have really been influenced by bands like Behemoth and Belphegor and how they blended the styles. We think death metal is great, and black metal is great, but when you mix them it takes things up to a whole new level.
You formed in 2005, beginning the band with two brothers Adam and Michael. What was the music like in those early days, and how does it compare to your present incarnation?
It was just hardcore back then. Hardcore was so popular back then and that was the heaviest music we knew existed. Our music back then was pretty straight forward and we had a very similar song structure, but if you listened to our music now and then, I doubt you could put them together.
Being as we live in Illinois, there really isn’t a metal scene! There has been a pretty negative reception from a lot of people, but it really depends. Us being Christians really bothers some people, and some people just want to listen to metal.
Your first full-length release was “Infinite Titanic Immortal” in 2009. I have to say that must be one of my favourite album covers – is there any symbolism there? Or is it just a great picture?
Thank you! Bogdan Amidzic did a fantastic job. There is not a great meaning overall, but there is a lot of little things. The two-headed eagle is something we’ve always liked and we wanted to see it in full flesh. That’s about as far as that goes, but when you fold out the other panel you can see a pyramid that refers to the song “Eclipse of Serpents.” There is a lot of Lord of the Rings references too. You can see a war elephant, and if you look close enough, a little Gandalf figure. That wasn’t intentional, but the artist knew we were LOTR fans and so he put it in.
There is a lot of imagery in your songs – mythological references (as in “Prometheus rebound”) or nature images of starved wolves and eclipsing serpents. Where do you find your inspiration, lyrically and musically?
We get musical inspiration from all over, but mostly good metal bands like Behemoth, Watain, Satyricon, or Keep of Kalessin. We listen to these bands and then try our own take on what they’ve done. It has to be powerful, luring, and fast. That’s why we listen to it. Lyrically, anything that fits with the music. The lyrics you put to metal have to fit the sound, just like any genre. We are all big mythology, science fiction, and history geeks. That’s what excites us. We can write songs about what we believe, using images we love, and sounds we love.
You managed to get Ravn (ex Antestor, Frosthardr) to play bass on the album, but recently you declared that he had left the band due to work and family commitments. Have you found a relpacement bass player yet?
Yeah, he only played with us for a little while, but it was good while he was here. Now Adam has picked up the bass and Elisha has taken up all of the guitar duties. This is how we are operating until we find someone else, but it is working very well and we are in no hurry to get a bass player.
At this time you are about to embark on a tour of Mexico, culminating in the Metal Morfosis Festival in Guanajuato, and you recently finished a tour of the mid-West with Divulgence and A Hero Remains. How does touring impact on the band? Do you have any tried and tested routines for coping with the touring period?
Touring definitely legitimizes you in your own mind if not the minds of others. If you haven’t toured, you aren’t quite a serious band, you know? We haven’t toured a lot, but when we have it really focused us and made being in a band a more mature thing. Spending so much time together really bonds you and that makes things easier in the end. All the small things in a band become routine and it’s easier to focus on the music. We don’t really have any methods for getting through it except a lot of prayer and goofy jokes, and everyone in general just knows to try and stay off everyone else’s nerves. Everyone is responsible for not acting like a dick and that usually works.
You have sometimes said that you are not actually a “Christian band” as such, more like a metal band whose members happen to be Christians. In what ways does your faith affect your music or your life as musicians?
This has been a very confusing question for Christian musicians over the last decade I think. On one hand, our music is Christian like Behemoth’s is satanic. However, Behemoth doesn’t worship satan and has a very aggressive message, but we do worship Yahweh but our message is a lot less aggressive than theirs. So, you make the call, I guess. I think the thing people are most concerned about is whether we preach from the stage or not: we don’t. If come to see us, it will just be metal. If you read the lyrics or talk to us, that will be a different story.
In my journey through the metal world I encounter many individuals who think that the words “Christian” and “metal” should never be linked, and that whenever it is, there will be a bunch of self-righteous elitists who look down on the “non-Christian” masses they have to mix with. How would you answer that kind of observation?
Sadly, for the most part I think it is true. We (Christians) have earned quite the reputation over the past two-thousand years and I think we deserve all the crap we get for it. The church has been one of the most hateful groups of people on earth. However, I can tell you that we are finally starting to see this. A lot of Christians, including, have been realizing this and trying to remedy it. As for us in AHTDU, we hope, in some small way to change this. We want to actually live the way Jesus said, and that’s the hardest thing any of us have ever attempted, but its the also the most rewarding we’ve ever done. A lot people see church-goers as self-righteous, and I think that is too often true. That’s sad to me because that is what Jesus was against.
Back to more down to earth topics, you have posted a couple of demos from the new album up on your myspace page. I notice that one of the new song titles is a translation of the medieval spell / charm “Abracadabra” and includes a quote from Dante’s Inferno – is this some kind of indication of the diversity we can expect from the new album? (Have you started recording yet?)
Yes! It will be very diverse and we are extremely excited about it. We have not started recording yet, but the writing, for the most part, is done. It should release it sometime this summer. A lot is still up in the air, but I can promise that it will blow “Infinite Titanic Immortal” out of the water!
Finally, we need to know: what is your 5-step plan for world domination? And have you a final message for our listeners at the Metalcast?
Five steps to world domination?
1. replace Oprah and absorb her power
2. sell to China
3. mine space
4. join Dogbert
5. double check previous steps. I think if you did these you would be well on your way. As for a final message, don’t stop listening to metal, going to shows, or playing metal. And, of course, listen to the Metalcast!