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Interview

Allegaeon Guitarists Discuss New Album "Elements Of The Infinite"

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Band Photo: Allegaeon (?)

Will the third time be a charm for Allegaeon? That's what fans have been asking themselves lately as these Colorado slingers of dizzying, technical, and melodic death metal prepare to catapult forth their new LP "Elements Of The Infinite" (reviewed here).

It's been a painstaking and sometimes agonizing process of due-paying for Allegaeon since 2010, the year of the stunning debut "Fragments Of Form And Function." Then came the even more ambitious "Formshifter" in 2012, and along with it, signs of a growing cult fan base.

But despite all the grassroots love and word-of-mouth acclaim, major industry recognition - and the touring opportunities it affords - continued to elude Allegaeon, right up to and beyond the departure of founding guitarist Ryan Glisan last year. It became clear that the time of reckoning was not far off, and for remaining members Greg Burgess (guitar), Ezra Haynes (vocals/lyrics), and Corey Archuleta (bass), it was fight-or-flight time.

Thankfully, the band chose the former, hiring new permanent drummer Brandon Park and keeping touring guitarist Mike Stancel in the ranks. The results are "Elements Of The Infinite" and a new lease on life in the music industry. I recently spoke to Burgess and Stancel about all this and more.

Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): What aspects of your overall creative approach may have been different for “Elements Of The Infinite?”

Greg Burgess: I can’t speak for Mike, obviously, but the amount of work on my shoulders was way, way bigger than before, due to the member change and everything. A lot of effort went into trying to keep the formula we’ve had for so long, to keep that going, with only half of the original influences still around, member-wise. So I made a concerted effort to look at the influences from former members and incorporate them into what I was doing.

Mike: Sure. I’d assumed you and Ryan had equal roles in the songwriting up until now.

Greg: Yeah, everything was 50/50 so far, up until this one.

Mike: And Mike, did you contribute music to this album?

Mike Stancel: Yeah, I wrote two songs: “The Phylogenesis Stretch” and “Genocide For Praise.”

Greg: We were jamming with Mike before Ryan officially quit, before anybody knew what was going on with Ryan. He was unable to tour, and he said as much. We had a huge touring opportunity that we just needed to take, so we brought Mike on board for it, and it was in the middle of that tour that Ryan officially backed out. So Mike had played a six-string up until that tour, and then he had to jump right to eight. And he’s a really great writer, and he’d written “The Phylogenesis Stretch” not as an Allegaeon tune, but as his own song, and it was so badass that we kind of co-opted it for the record. [laughs] And for “Genocide,” I’d written a lot of classical guitar stuff, and I showed it to him and said, “Hey man, here’s a writing project for you. Write an Allegaeon song based off this.” And he hit a home run, and it was rad. High five! [laughs]

Mike: Was there any adaptation involved on “Phylogenesis,” or was it written as is?

Stancel: I think it was just included as is, yeah. We didn’t really change anything. I wrote it in one or two days, the first couple days I had my eight-string. And I sent it to a couple members of my other band, and they said, “That sounds like Revocation and Allegaeon.” [laughs] So it worked out well.

Greg: Yeah, I think it sounds different from anything else we’ve ever done, but then it doesn't sound TOO different, so it fits in really well. The song rules. Couldn’t be more happy with it.

Mike: And speaking of new and slightly different touches, you open the album with symphonic orchestrations on “Threshold Of Perception.” What led to the decision to incorporate those?

Greg: Well, if you listen closely to “Fragments” and “Formshifter,” those elements are in there, but they’re buried in the mix. At that point, we couldn’t pull that stuff off live, so it was mainly there just to fill out the sound. Recording and live are two different things. Live is so loud, you can get away with less, right? But you can’t really do that on the record. So anyway, I’m a huge Devin Townsend fan, and he doubles everything with keys and creates that wall of sound, and I’ve taken from him and tried to do similar things with Allegaeon. That’s what we did before. But now that we have Brandon, he plays to a click track, so we can actually play with some of these bigger elements in a live setting. The technology and new members have really benefitted us and brought us to the next level.

Mike: You introduced the new lineup with the comedic video for “1.618,” which featured the “Wheel of Subgenres” game. Whose idea was that?

Greg: The greatest thing about this new lineup is, I’m not really sure whose idea it was. Everybody contributed, and that speaks to what a good place we’re in right now. We could sit around and throw ideas out, and just have each other in stitches. And some of that shit was just spur of the moment. Like “What if we did this?” “Dude, film that!” It was all about figuring out on set what was funny. And of course we’re poking fun at ourselves as it is, y’know, and all the subgenres that we love - apart from crabcore; that’s just us being mean. [laughs]

Mike: I think it gets to the heart of what Allegaeon is all about, on a fan interaction basis. You guys don’t really take yourselves too seriously, and that seems to have endeared you to a lot of people.

Greg: I’ll be honest: we didn’t really know how well the funny video was gonna do. So at the same time, we filmed a video for “Our Cosmic Casket,” which is arguably the most “death metal” tune on the record, and that is completely serious until the end. There is a twist, and whether people are willing to sit through the whole bullshit video to see the twist, that’s another thing. But the overall goal was, “Let’s do two videos - a funny one and a serious one - just in case people HATE ‘1.618.’” So we made a video that’s the complete opposite to appeal to the ‘broad spectrum fan,’ but while we were shooting, our personalities kinda came out and we started fucking around, and so at the very, very end there’s this little plot twist that’s meant to set up our next two videos, which will be very much in the vein of “1.618.”

Mike: Which songs will those be?

Greg: We don’t know yet, but it doesn’t even matter! [Stancel laughs] The stories we have for ‘em, it really doesn’t matter what songs we use. I’d love to do one for “Phylo,” Mike’s song, and then maybe one for “Gravimetric Time Dilation,” because that one’s pretty close to my heart, but ultimately it really doesn’t matter. It might depend on length, and figuring out how much funny crap we can shove into the video.

Mike: So there’s a “Biomech II” on the album, a sequel to “Biomech” on the debut. Can you tell me the lyrical backstory for this little motif?

Greg: The first “Biomech” stemmed from a local girl here, I think in Loveland, Colorado, who basically was born with a degenerative retina. And at that time, the Bush Administration had cut a bunch of bills that were pro-stem cell research. They had cured this affliction in China, but this girl - her name was Lacey - she couldn’t legally get the surgery here, and it pissed me off to no end. It was a bullshit circumstance, and this poor girl was scared out of her wits because she couldn’t see, and couldn’t get the treatment she needed thanks to bullshit politicians. Of course, a lot of it was due to the religious aspect; I mean, that’s really what it boiled down to. So that’s where the “playing God” lyric comes in, and of course our response in the song is “God damn you.” I mean, we’re not exactly the religious guys - though we have nothing against it - but at the same time, it’s like, “Who the fuck are you to say this person should suffer?” So our local hockey team here, the Colorado Eagles, raised enough money for her to travel to China, she got the surgery, and now she’s great. And that made us feel really good. So fast forward to now. They’re starting to get really good at printing organs, all this 3-D printing stuff, based off stem cells. So it was kind of a natural progression of the whole thought process. Y’know, I’m sure, at some point, Westboro or some other whacked-out… I know I’m sounding like a complete wacky atheist right now, [laughs] not trying to… but you know someone will have a problem with it at some point, saying it’s “against” something, and they don’t fucking know. They’re pulling their interpretation our of their asses. So our whole thing is, “Believe what you want, but you have no right to harm people because of those beliefs.” That’s really what it comes down to.

Mike: So onto some of the rest of the tracklist. I’m not much of a science guy, so I’d like to ask some “layman dummy questions” about some of these song titles and meanings. One that really jumps out is “Tyrants Of The Terrestrial Exodus.”

Greg: I did a lot of research on what it would take to evacuate our planet. Say something happened and we had to evacuate. What would be the logistics involved? I watched a couple documentaries, read some stuff, and found what I thought was some good information and passed it to Ezra, and he would write lyrics from it. What it came down to was, our planet is too vast to evacuate everything. So there would be genetic selection for who’s gonna get to go, and a lot of that is gonna be manipulated by the people in power, right? So that’s kind of what it’s about. The artists, architects, mathematicians, doctors, the people of high value to society - SOMEONE has to place value on occupations. The garbage man, unfortunately, is not gonna be picked to go. It’s gonna be the theoretical physicists or whatever. It’s unfortunate, because one human being isn’t better than the other, but in someone’s eyes, logistically, that’s how it would break down. So that’s what the whole thing’s about: how to evacuate, and the corruption that would take place.

Mike: Everyone loves a good apocalyptic story in death metal.

Greg: Yeah. Ezra’s little twist on it is, at the end, it doesn’t matter who you are; the earth just says “fuck you” and decides to kill everyone. [laughs] So in the end, the earth is the tyrant and claims everyone.

Mike: And how about “Our Cosmic Casket?”

Greg: That one’s about black holes.

Stancel: Isn’t that from the perspective of the planet going through a black hole?

Greg: Yeah, see, they don’t know a lot about black holes. I think they’re actually just theories to explain phenomena that they see, so they figure there must be black holes. I don’t think anyone knows for sure if they exist. So they don’t know if they’re moving, or whatever - and I’m no scientist, and I might be completely wrong - but say they move. So the thought process behind this song is about a black hole that’s big enough to suck earth into it. We would all die. That’s basically what it is. [laughs]

Stancel: I think Ezra put it something like: “the deadest ever.” [laughs]

Mike: You’ll be bringing this album on the road fairly soon with Chimaira. Any additional touring plans?

Greg: Yeah, the Chimaira tour is August 5th through the 30th, and then we have a tour lined up for September, but we’re still working out the details so we can’t talk about it. But the Chimaira tour will be a highlight of my life. We’re both super stoked to be going out with that band.

Mike: It’s seemed like slow progress to this point, sadly! I had my eyes out for Allegaeon tours ever since “Fragments” came out, and they’re starting to happen now, but not as quickly as I would’ve liked as a fan.

Greg: [laughs] You’re telling me! Yeah, believe me, there’s been a lot of frustration as far as tours go. We definitely had our ups and downs over the future of this band, and now it finally seems we have one. [laughs] A lot of the slow progress had to do with our financial situation, our vehicle situation, our personnel situation, and after that - due to some of those situations - we were blacklisted by agents for a long time. Even when we got our shit together, which was a pretty hard and extensive struggle, we still weren’t to be touched within the industry. But we’ve just now started to right the ship in the eyes of some influential people, and a lot of that came from being friends with other bands who would ask us to come out. Allegaeon had a reputation as a lazy band, and we weren’t lazy - circumstances were just against us. But then we did that huge six-week tour with Wretched last summer, and that was the longest tour we’ve ever done, and the first one we did during our rebuilding. They saw that, and then we did a headlining tour last December, and they saw that not only are we willing to work, but that we’re willing to take risks. A headlining tour at our level is not a smart move, but we did it to hit some markets we hadn’t hit before. So our reputation has been righted, and that’s why things are now starting to push forward.

Mike: Do you guys feel like plugging your other bands?

Greg: Yep. Cryogen is still going well. Next month [July] on the 18th we’ll have a tenth anniversary show with Vimana, and their guitarist is Zac Joe, who played in Cephalic Carnage. That should be really good. I play in another band, The Combustion Mechanism, with my wife on drums, but she’s really into soccer at the moment. [laughs] She’s seen how much I’ve suffered doing Allegaeon, so she’s found other interests for right now. But I love everybody in that band; Combustion Mechanism is still very much my baby. We’re still gonna play, but we’re just on a break to make room for Allegaeon.

Stancel: I’m in a band called Artemesis, and we have an EP coming out soon. A little bit thrasher than Allegaeon, and without ten thousand string guitars. [laughs]

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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