The levels of darkness in extreme metal often varies with different bands – from the slightly gloomy and the melancholically bleak to the overwhelmingly miserable and terrifyingly grim. Michigan’s Sunlight’s Bane (formerly Traitor) definitely fall into the latter end of the disheartened spectrum. Their aptly-titled debut full-length, The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried, features 11 heavy and abrasive tracks, combining elements of black metal, grind, hardcore and crust, among others, into a diverse sound that exudes furious anguish and utter despondency.
Just before the release of TBVLATEWB, which is out this Friday (February 17), vocalist Nick Holland took some time for an interview with Svbterranean. He discusses how Sunlight’s Bane came to be, changing their name from Traitor and how they’ve progressed since then. Holland also talks about the long writing process of TBVLATEWB and some of the unconventional recording practices, as well as the band’s unique sound, what draws them to these especially dark realms, lyrical inspiration and more.
Sunlight’s Bane actually started out as Traitor. What’s the story behind the band’s inception?
Vocalist Nick Holland: We’ve known each other for years, mostly through playing shows together in our former bands or going to see each other play. When Chris and I started Traitor, we really just wanted to write together and didn’t have a clear or concise direction with what we wanted to do. We played a few shows with some friends who were either temporary members or fill ins, but when Nate and Cody had left their former band, both finding themselves without anyone else to perform, we all started practicing together and the pieces started to fall in place with the sound. We spent the first year-and-a-half playing weekend tours and playing around Michigan, slowly focusing ourselves more and more on what we wanted to do.
What led to the decision to change the name to Sunlight’s Bane?
Traitor was always meant to be a temporary name, but things began to move much quicker than anticipated and by the time we should have settled on a more permanent name, we had made too much traction and were worried of losing it with a name change. But when the album was nearing completion after nearly two years of us playing less and less to focus on writing, we decided that before we recorded and released it (and with an impending tour with Iskra approaching), if there was ever a time to finally make the name change, it was then. So we decided to change the name to a song title from our older material to bridge the gap of Internet searches and tie them in together, which is why we settled on the song title “Sunlight’s Bane,” a song from our EP Shadowheart, which eventually became part of our discography release, Antiquated Chapters, when we changed the name.
How are you feeling about the outcome of your debut album, The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried?
I could not be more satisfied with the end product. As I said, we spent two years writing it, completing and scrapping numerous songs along the way, wanting to ensure that only our best material that represented what we felt was the atmosphere of the album made the cut. We weren’t even sure who we were going to record with while writing, but when the entire album was finished, we tossed around ideas and Andy Nelson came up. I’ve always enjoyed the production of albums he has done and the production of Dead In the Dirt‘s The Blind Hole, which he recorded, was some of my favorite sounding material and production from any newer band. I feel Andy captured a very raw but dominating sound for the album, which is something I did not imagine being possible. So I would say the final product of our album between material and production wildly exceeds any and all expectations of ours.
What was the writing and recording process like?
As I said, the writing took place over two years. We really had no specific direction for an overall sound of the album. We went song by song, only writing and finishing what we felt best represented us. Our thought was that each and every song may have to speak for us and the album and that song may be our only chance with a listener. So the focus was on crafting each song as a voice of its own, not on the identity of an entire album. It took a very long time and we began to fall out of routine with shows for awhile because we spent more time investing into a future goal than in the now, which very quickly became not only exhausting, but disheartening at times. I would dare say completing this album nearly ended us. When I decided to reach out to Andy Nelson to see how possible recording with him would be, knowing we were a much smaller band than what he normally recorded, I didn’t have very high hopes of our chances. But he and the rest of his studio were incredibly receptive and accommodating and we quickly were able to set something up. It was the most satisfying recording process I’ve ever been a part of. He was open to any and all unconventional requests we had, which included, for example, me doing all vocals in a dark and unheated room (in the middle of December), and lighting incense and candles. Chris also tracked guitar in the dark by candlelight, and every step of the way, Andy only encouraged us. I feel that creative encouragement only enhanced the performances and the overall outcome of the record.
How do you feel the new release compares to the band’s previous work as Traitor?
I feel that this is the whole of what we were attempting to accomplish as Traitor. Every wildly stretching influence, every idea and facet of an identity feels represented here. I don’t think we shy away from or reject any of our old material (except for perhaps a few early demos) because all of it is what shaped what we are doing now. This is just the more focused and mature version of what we were doing in the early years.
The band’s sound is described as “blackened grind,” but it incorporates a lot of different styles. How do you describe the band?
That’s always been very difficult for me to do without either having to compare various aspects to different bands, or skipping genres and instead describing the atmosphere of the sound over the songs themselves. To be honest, reviewers really started picking up on the grind influence. We never really thought of that reflection in the sound. To us, it was always just an extremely dark, abrasive and heavy record/sound with hints of various influences. That’s why we eventually began describing our band and sound as “audio terror” because to us, we feel there is more of a consistency in that abrasive atmosphere of terror in the music than in any specific genre itself.
Is the mix of styles a reflection of the band members’ different tastes? What are your influences?
It definitely is, but very rarely is it intentional. We write our songs together live at practice, and usually it’s just us working on a piece until ideas come to us for what direction we should take a song at any given point. Each member has a valued input, which is why everyone’s influences shine through, but not necessarily in an intentional or planned way. The band is consistently influenced by death, blackened crust and black metal, but some of us are also highly influenced by things ranging from ’80s thrash to ’90s political hardcore and grind. There really are no overall specific bands that drive the sound or direction of the project.
Extreme metal is already quite dark, yet Sunlight’s Bane takes it a step further. What draws you towards the more exceptionally dark realms?
I’d say it helps that we quite literally practice and write in darkness, first and foremost. We often write in small and cramped rooms lit only by a single dim bulb from a lamp low to the ground. We also, because of schedules, only practice late at night, when we are all frustrated, agitated, miserable and tired. We have balanced between practicing in extremely impoverished areas of Detroit to the middle of empty farming communities farther north in the state. This seemingly has formed a good base for the sound and atmosphere of the band. We have also never really had any other bands that have been extremely close with us, so we have also always felt a sense of indifference or animosity to our existence. Beyond this, a lot of the direction of sound and artwork comes from both Chris and I, and while I will not speak for him, I will say that I myself battle severe bouts of depression and anxiety coupled with issues of anger with myself and the outside world. And since I am charged with the responsibility of writing lyrics for the band, I would say that laying those themes over some music that is already influenced by a lot of figurative and literal darkness has pushed our band into more of those lower spheres.
How much of creating/performing this kind of music is about it being a sort of catharsis for you?
It is all catharsis. There is no financial gain to be had, no illusions of popularity or success. Any all unexpected positive reception and praise has been entirely welcomed, but for most of us, the primary motivator is the cathartic closure that writing and performing this music has offered us.
Lyrically, what themes are present on The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried? What’s the meaning behind the title?
There are so many themes present on the record. They range from songs about white imperialism and the worship of authority by oppressed peoples to more personal subjects, like my fears of one day becoming a father and my fears as a husband. There are so many responsibilities that come with those titles and the idea of the costs of failure with each are unbearable. The album almost represents a very manic shift in emotion, the first half feeling much more angry and spiteful whereas the second half by and large feels more remorseful and fearful. The title is dual statements that are both independent, but out of context, serve no purpose to exist without the other, which is why they are not two titles, but two parts of a whole. I understand that it is a mouthful but it is difficult for me when people truncate the album’s name to simply The Blackest Volume because that is only a portion of the title, as Like All the Earth Was Buried is not an afterthought. It would be like someone calling Napalm Death’s Smear Campaign just Smear or Converge’s Jane Doe only Doe. The title is very intentional and therefore, I would rather see it abbreviated to the acronym TBVLATEWB than simply referred to as The Blackest Volume like some have done.
What inspires the lyrical approach?
Some of it is written ahead of time to encapsulate a single emotion or feeling, but some of it is greatly influenced by whatever may be going on in the world or what I am reading and my perception or reactionary feelings to those things at any given time. For example, “I Am the Cold, Harsh Whispers In Hell” was one of the only songs that did not yet have lyrics when we entered the studio. On our first day recording, the shooting at the Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood by the Christian terrorist Robert Dear occurred. I was so enraged by this and the sickening support of it by others online that I found inspiration for the lyrics of the song the day before recording it. The lyrics are about violence inspired by religious motivation and absolution, and the idea of these individuals imagining themselves to be martyrs, but awakening, to their horror, in the depths of their hell to an eternity of torture and pain that now awaits them. This is only one example, but it is one of the few examples of a specific process that I can really give.
The cover art is also quite dark. How does it tie in with the lyrical themes?
The cover art is an example of a shared vision. We really had no idea what we wanted as the cover, but we felt that a painting would work best, something tangible that exists physically in the world. I approached our friend Patrick who is an extremely talented artist and asked him about painting something for the record. When he asked about what direction we wanted to take it in, we all agreed that something as ambiguous for the listener as the album’s title would be best. We eventually settled on the imagery of a scene that could either be interpreted as a drowning or a baptism (or perhaps something resting between the two), and Patrick took the direction for the art from there, which we were extremely pleased with.
Detroit has been known for its prolific metal and hardcore scenes. How has it affected you?
The opportunities for shows and available venues with promoters who have a strong desire to give back, like our friend Maxxwell at his venue The Sanctuary, is really all we feel we have gotten out of the Detroit scene and the surrounding areas if we can base it on our years of experience there.
What’s coming up next for Sunlight’s Bane?
There are several tours booked or being booked at the moment, so for the time being, it seems we will be spending our time traveling and touring in promotion of the album.
Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to answer some interesting and introspective questions.
The Blackest Volume: Like All The Earth Was Buried is out February 17 via Innerstrength Records. Pre-orders are available here and catch Sunlight’s Bane at one of their upcoming shows:
2.16 Columbus, OH – Donato’s Basement
2.17 Detroit, MI – The Sanctuary (album release show)
2.18 Moline, IL – The Island
2.19 Franklin, WI – JJ’s Bar and Grill