When black metallers Valle Crucis played local to me on a bill with Wake, Withered, Altar Blood and Greves I had a damn near out of body experience with this duo. Despite stiff competition across my beloved death metal and killer progressive metal, Valle Crucis’ mystical performance left a lasting imprint. So, as any other fan would do, I hit up their Bandcamp page, immediately, and bought the only thing they had at the time (obviously). Fast forward to present day, as soon as I saw mention of a new album I got in touch to find out more from this band which I knew nothing about other than the fact that they worshipped at the altar of violent black metal in the vein of all the early wave progenitors from this genre. With their upcoming full length debut Iron & Blood in the crosshairs I reached out to Skullcrusher (guitars, vocals, bass) with some questions designed to get a feel for the band and his thoughts on the new album. It’s not often I get a chance to rep my local bands so this is an absolute treat for me and I hope you dig it as well. Be sure to hit those links at the bottom and support them, they absolutely deserve it.
Let’s start from the beginning: you took your name from the folklore surrounding a demon dog or hellhound in Valle Crucis, NC and eluded to as much with the cover of your self-titled EP and one of its songs. How did you land on the band name and what about this story spoke to you enough to use it?
It’s hard for me to just come up with a random name for anything. I like to include something local into what I’m doing if at all possible. There’s decent lore from South Carolina, where we’re actually from, but it lends more to something like Funeral Doom. The draw of the legend was a hellhound that haunts a church yard, a demon entity taking root at a “holy place.” Sounds pretty black metal to me. However, we don’t pronounce the name the same. It’s a combination of the town and Latin pronunciations (Vah-lee Crew-sis), which the Latin means “Valley of the Cross.” Not religious unless we start talking of the Abbey Valle Crucis in Wales, which we’ve used imagery of the ruins of that as well.
My first exposure to you was in the live setting and the thing that stood out the most is just how raw, aggressive and cold your black metal sounds. I can definitely hear nods to early waves of the genre and I know that Dark Funeral, Sargeist and Behexen (among others) are influences but what are some of the not so obvious influences that helped shape you into the band you are today and informed your sound the most?
Sargeist and Behexen are definitely two of the most influential for my song writing. Merrimack & Satyricon come from Ashriel in her drumming styles. It may be surprising though, that the only black metal guitarist I take influence from is Ihsahn. Guys like Alex Skolnick & Joel Hoekstra are ones I’m influenced by a lot. I take influence from a wide variety including Speed Metal, Power & Progressive Metal, Jazz, etc to get ideas on rhythms, time signatures, tempos, etc, which will be a little more noticeable on newer songs coming after the debut “Iron & Blood.”
It’s obvious listening to the EP that keeping the soul and bones of black metal as a destructive force alive and well is important to you. Is this something you even consider when approaching new material or does it come natural in the writing process? And, what does the writing process entail for you? Do you come up with stuff on the fly and capture it or is it a more calculated endeavor?
Very much so. I don’t have anything against the symphonic or atmospheric/ambient bands, I really like a lot of them. But, to me, Black Metal is violent sounding, raw and destructive. Even a slower tune can be just as punishing.
My writing process is very calculated. I want the music to fit the particular lyrical theme of the song. There’s certain ways I want transitions to sound, rhythms and tempo for different ideas. I’ll have an idea of a progression in my head and I’ll sit with the guitar and play it and revise it as I find something that works better within the progression. I’m also really really bad at on the spot improvisation.
Speaking of the EP, “Winter’s Whore” is such a departure from the rest. The slower pace and devilish rhythm really got my attention as a closer. What’s the story behind this track in particular?
I’ll have to leave everyone guessing at what the story behind that song is about. I will tell you, though, that it was the first song I wrote for the band. Filled with hate and a cold feeling.
And “Fuck It” is a quick jam session to set the mood?
“Fuck It” once had another name and lyrics to it, but I couldn’t ever perfect those the way I wanted and ended up hating what I wrote and gave up, hence “Fuck it!”
You’ve got a new album, Iron & Blood due out November 8 digitally with physical to follow shortly thereafter, how did the creative process for this album go versus the EP and is there a backstory or concept behind the album beyond the downfall of organized religion?
There’s a few themes on the album, most notably, yes, the hatred of the religious, social and political status quo in our country. Mostly that’s what had been on my mind and what I wanted to write about. Now one song, “Soul Fucker,” is a theme of depression that I went through a number of years ago and “March of the Night” is inspired by Game of Thrones. Now, the title track “Iron and Blood” finished out the album and is about rising up, breaking through and destroying this status quo of intolerance, ignorance, etc from creationist theory being taught in schools to intolerance of anyone that is different (religion, sexual orientation, skin color, etc), corrupt politics, etc. that plagues the country.
The one track you’ve got up now, “In Nomine Nihil” sounds amazing and not only in how much tighter the performances are from the EP but in the actual sound of the music. Last time you worked with Sonic Void Recording Studio and this time at Ethereal Sound Studios. What prompted the change and does the final product meet your expectations or vision you had of the sound?
We actually recorded everything at Dead Sound Studio in Georgia with Josh from Hellgoat. He had several ideas on guitar and bass tones that made a lot of what we did stand out, compared to using my normal tone, bringing in a Swedish death metal sound. We then added some samples and a few other things through Ethereal Sound during the mixing and mastering process that helped take what we did to an even higher level. We took a lot more time rehearsing and recording this release too, four days of recording for this album versus only one day for the EP.
The physical version will feature a re-recorded version of “God Induced Psychosis” and I’m curious what we can expect since this track is already a raw beast? Did you decide to revisit this one since you had a different working environment this time out?
For the re-recorded version, we had a few lyric changes, drum pattern and guitar changes so we wanted to re-do this song with the changes we had made over the course of playing it many many times.
Narcoleptica Productions actually released the debut demo on tape. So they jumped on wanting to release our album on CD as well. As for Pagan Pride, Ashriel has known Brian for a while and when he heard us play he almost immediately was interested in working with us on a release.
Misanthropic Art, who’ve worked with many bands and fests, handled the album cover. The piece they came up with is stunning, how did working with them come about and how did you convey to them exactly what you were looking for?
Honestly, I just inquired about having art done. We like a lot of his work and thought he could best bring forth the imagery from the ideas we are trying to convey.
I’m always interested in an artist’s take on their own work, now that Iron & Blood is done and nearing release do you feel you fully captured your vision of it and are you pleased with it?
We’re very pleased with how this album turned out. It was a lot of work, a fair bit of nerves to get to this final product, but after now listening through it all several times, its something we are proud of and are ready to unleash to everyone.
You’ve got an album release show coming up at The Radio Room in Greenville, SC and a show at The Caledonia Lounge in Athens, GA the following night. Any more touring plans beyond those dates? Any plans to expand the touring distance at all?
We’re currently planning a run of dates in early Spring of 2019 for the eastern U.S.
Beyond the album release and show dates what does the next 6-8 or even 12 months look like for Valle Crucis?
Definitely we’ll be having more shows to promote our music and we’ve already begun writing music for the next release.
What is your take or opinion on the current state of black metal?
There are a few pieces to this. First, there is a lot of good black metal music being released. That being said, what I think is lacking is the mindset, presence and atmosphere of the performance. I’ve seen so many that get on stage and just have the typical “Hey guys, we’re (insert band name here), we’re gonna play (insert song here).” There’s a certain presence I expect with black metal that takes it to that next level. I’m not the best at it, I know, but I improve over the course of each show. There’s also this….I guess it’s a trend of playing black metal, which partly goes into the mindset and presence thing, of just getting into and playing black metal because it “sounds cool” or some bands writing about or “adopting” beliefs they don’t actually have just to play black metal. Like with the lyrical themes of the album, I didn’t “adopt” those beliefs, I actually fucking hate the status quo of religion, politics and society….I actually went through that depressive period that “Soul Fucker” is based on, it’s all real experiences and beliefs. Which also makes us extremely picky on who we choose to play with, if we can help it. There’s also the ever ongoing debate on what can be classified as black metal, with ever growing influences and lyrical content, sound changes by bands to incorporate a different influence. There’s just a ton of garbage within the genre/scene that’s unnecessary and could be improved upon.
Further to that point, I think you two are a much needed shot in the arm for the genre and am amazed at what you’re able to do as a duo. With that said, how do you see Valle Crucis fitting in or not fitting in to today’s black metal and does it matter to you at all one way or the other?
Do we fit in? I have no idea. Fitting in to the genre or “gaining popularity” isn’t important. We do our thing and if people gravitate to it and like it, cool. If not, oh well.
Any desire at all to work with a record label and/or PR entities in the future or would you rather keep everything in house and retain control?
I have considered PR agencies. We did with our EP and it worked well gaining interviews and reviews for our music. It’s more difficult to say with a label. If the right offer were to come around, then yes.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these, anything you’d like to add?
We’d just like to thank everyone who supports us. Coming from South Carolina, we really weren’t sure how well a black metal band like this would be received. We really didn’t worry about it, we just wanted to write what we wanted to write and people seem to like it.
Many thanks to Skullcrusher and Valle Crucis for their time!