1. Can you give us an update on what has been going on with the band since the recording and release of the new album?
Things have actually been pretty quiet over the past year or so. We've opted to make finishing the record our priority. Unfortunately, back in May of last year, we lost our guitarist, Evan, who I started the band with. Now that the album is almost out, though, things have started to pick up again and we should be practising with a new lineup soon.
2. Recently you have released a new album, how would you describe the musical sound that is presented on the recording and also how does it differ from the stuff you have released in the past?
We're all over the place, but I think “blackened doom metal” is probably the aptest description of what we sound like for anyone who's never heard us. But, there are elements of death metal and gothic metal in there, as well.
Our goal with this band has always just been to create something meaningful. Having this outlet has given us a way to express a lot of really complex moods and emotions in a productive way.
The biggest difference between this record and our past recordings is definitely in the songwriting. We've had time to grow as musicians and I think we were a little more confident going into this one.
In the past, our previous guitarist would write and record entire demos using programmed drums and the rest of the guys would work with what was there, or emulate it entirely. And, while that has certainly remained a part of the process, everyone was a lot more involved this time around and what ended up on the record feels more like the vision of the entire band. We spent a lot more time rearranging and writing new sections, exploring different dynamic elements and often changed the feel of the original demo altogether.
3. You refer to your music style as 'Prairie Doom' can you tell us a little bit more about this term?
There are a few different answers here. Most of which relate less to the particular sound and more to aesthetic and identity.
We honestly aren't the first ones to use this description, either. A very good, but no longer active black metal band from Saskatoon called Autaric used to refer to themselves as “prairie black metal”. Furthermore, our guitarist and backing vocalist, Erik Labossiere, had a band called Desecrate Scripture that used the same brand.
Back in 2011, Erik also began booking shows and promoting local bands under the name Desecrate Promotions. He did this as a way to bring attention to the local scene here, which tends to get passed over due to our demographic. Regina tends to be a speed bump between larger cities like Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg. Despite this, he and a number of other promoters have worked incredibly hard to grow our scene and give bands from Saskatchewan a platform. The guy has literally got “Prairie Metal Proud” tattooed on his body, and it's really just something that's ingrained in us.
We also like it for its aesthetic implications. You're lucky if it doesn't snow seven months out of the year here and winter can get brutally cold and miserable, which is pretty inspiring when you make this kind of music.
4. What are some of the lyrical topics and subjects the band explores with the newer release?
On Iris, like most of our material, I tried to write lyrics that were significant in some way, but that also tell an underlying story. I tend to like concept albums in that they unfold almost cinematically and it makes my brain happy when all of the artwork and lyrics and everything is cohesive.
I've always preferred that the listener find their own take away from the lyrics, but the concept is out there if you look for it. The themes on Iris include religion, addiction and terminal illness. We also drew a lot of influence from our prairie surroundings.
5. What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name 'Altars of Grief'?
Again, this is something that I've heard a lot of speculation on, from literal altars to metaphors for suicide scars?
The truth is, when I came up with the name, it just seemed to conjure up cool imagery in my mind and it really fit the music we were writing. In a way, I kind of look at each record we do as being an altar of grief.
6. I have read that this band originally started out as a side project, how much more active has the band gotten over the years?
You heard correctly, but it wasn't a side project for very long! Both Evan and I had been friends for a while and our bands at the time used to play a lot of shows together. However, things were starting to burn out with the project I was in. So, I had started writing some material on my own, which was influenced by bands like My Dying Bride and Daylight Dies. Coincidentally, Evan had started writing some doom metal at the same time. So, we decided to work together, with him doing the music and me handling lyrics and vocals. Within a couple of months, we had a lineup and a show booked and Altars of Grief became our sole focus from there.
7. What are some of the best shows that the band has played over the years and also how would you describe your stage performance?
This might sound counterintuitive, but I actually find it's the shows where nothing is ideal that I enjoy the most. Sometimes you play on a floor for ten people, or you have a sound guy who's never worked a board before and those uncomfortable performances end up being the most intense and raw. We've been lucky enough to open for bands like Swallow The Sun and Insomnium, and we've headlined festivals we had no business headlining. Those shows are definitely highlights. But, I've always found that we're most in our element when it's an intimate venue or the circumstances aren't perfect. That's when I find I'm able to step out of myself on stage and perform at my best.
8. Do you have any touring or show plans for the new album?
Currently, we've got a few dates planned but nothing crazy extensive as of right now. In October, we'll be playing a black and doom metal festival in Edmonton called Black Mourning Light for the second time, which I'm really looking forward to as both a performer and a fan.
9. On a worldwide level, how has the feedback been to your music by fans of black and doom metal?
To me, we're still just a little band from Saskatchewan. I'm always surprised by any positive attention that we've received, much less praise from other countries.
We do seem to exist in this middle ground where fans of different sub-genres will probably be able to find something that appeals to them, but it's also sort of a double-edged sword. We're not likely going to appeal to black metal purists, and we might be a bit over the top for someone looking for straightforward funeral doom.
At least fans of Woods of Ypres have taken kindly to us!
10. What is going on with some of the other bands or musical projects these days that some of the band members are a part of?
Currently, Evan is working on a solo project called The Void of Life. I haven't spoken to him in quite a few months, so I don't know what the status of that is. But, what I have heard is sounding promising. If you're a fan of what we do, you'd do well to keep an eye on that.
Our drummer, who recently stepped in as Evan's replacement on guitar, is also the guitarist and vocalist of a death metal band called Scythra. Those guys will have a new record out soon, as well, which I can honestly say I've heard and it's fucking incredible. Can't recommend them enough.
Erik and the rest of Nachtterror, who we put out our split with, are finishing up their full-length at the moment. I imagine that will be out sometime this year, but don't quote me. He's also an independent pro-wrestler and does film work and photography under the moniker of Wikked Twist Films.
Finally, our bassist, Donny, and I are working on a project called Shoreless with Nic Skog who runs Hypnotic Dirge Records, as well as the singer for another local band called Hell Hounds.
11. Where do you see the band heading into musically during the future?
As of this writing, I can't say for sure what the future holds for Altars of Grief. It's entirely likely that we won't be releasing any more music under this name. As I stated before, we've kind of made it our focus to release Iris, for the benefit of both those who have been waiting to hear it and the label that has invested in us. But, after this year we may be putting the band to rest. It goes without saying that we aren't the same band without all of our core members intact and anyone who's followed us probably feels that way too.
12. What are some of the bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your newer music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
Thrawsunblat, Neurosis, Harakiri For The Sky, Deafheaven, Amenra, Oathbreaker, Alcest and Chelsea Wolfe were all bands that we probably would've been listening to at the time of writing Iris, and definitely still do. We've also been lucky enough to get to know some very talented bands like Numenorean from Calgary, Adolyne from Saskatoon and Wilt and Ossific from Winnipeg, all of which have had some kind of effect on us.
Some albums that I've been listening to lately are: “Tired Of Tomorrow” by Nothing, “Science Fiction” by Brand New, “Fantastic Planet” by Failure, “Below The Ever Setting Sun” by Grey Waters, “Hiss Spun” by Chelsea Wolfe, “Red Flags” by The Provenance, “Third” by Portishead, “Hope Is Misery” by Walk Through Fire and “Shrines of Paralysis” by Ulcerate.
13. What are some of your non-musical interests?
I have a bit of an obsession with horror films. I'm also into true crime, history and weird folklore stuff and I like to write when I can. I became a vegetarian last year, so things like sustainability and animal welfare have also become interests of mine, as well.
14. Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts?
If you made it this far, thanks for listening to me ramble and for your interest in Altars of Grief. Go and check out any of the bands that I've listed above if you haven't already and make sure to have a listen to Iris when it's out.
Lastly, go see a show. Support local venues and support local bands; they may surprise you!