Press + Reviews
More Constant Than the Gods Best of 2013 year-end lists:
#4 on Decibel Magazine’s Top 40 Extreme Albums of 2013
#9 on Pitchfork’s Top 40 Metal Albums of the Year” (“Show No Mercy” column)
#3 in Meat Mead Metal’s Top 40 Best Albums of 2013
#11 on Rolling Stone’s 20 Best Metal Albums of 2013
#11 on SPIN’s Top 20 Best Metal Albums of 2013
#5 on Entertainment Weekly’s “The 6 Best Metal Albums of the Year” (2013)
#5 on MSN.com’s “The Best Metal Albums of 2013” (Top 50, by Adrien Begrand)
#2 on Pop Matter’s Best Metal of 2013 (Top 20)
#50 on PopMatter’s 75 Best Albums of 2013 (across all genres)
Listed in NPR Writer Lars Gotrich’s Top 10 Favorite Metal Albums of 2013
#7 on New Noise’s “Top 100 Metal and Rock Albums of 2013”
#2 on Cvlt Nation’s Top 6 Doom Albums of 2013
#8 on Stereogum’s 50 Best Metal Albums of the Year
#13 on Metal Hammer Norway’s Top 20 metal albums of 2013
#2 on The Last Rites Metal Madness Bracket The Finals (audience vote out of 64 bands in a series of rounds for the top album of the year)
Listed in Steel for Brains’ Jonathan Dick’s “Necessarily Loud,” 50 Essential Heavy Albums from 2013
#1 on Invisible Oranges’ Dan Lawrence’s Top 10 Albums of 2013
#6 on Invisible Oranges’ Greg Majewski’s Top 10 Albums of 2013
Nominee for “The Best Sludge/Stoner Metal Album category on Metal Storm Awards 2013, with 10 others
#6 on Frontier Psychiatrist’s Top 20 Metal Albums of 2013
#7 on Treble’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2013
#14 on Doom Review’s “15 Most Memorable Albums of 2013”
#2 on Metal Wani’s Top 10 Metal Albums of the Year
#1 on Metal Wani’s Top 8 Doom Albums of 2013
#1 on Psychoactive Soundscapes: The Trippiest Psychedelic Albums of 2013
#6 on Fester’s Lucky 13 (Best Albums of 2013) on Fast N’ Bulbous
MCTTG’s “Affliction” is on WCNI’s Top 50 Playlist of 2013
Listed in Last Rites’ Top 25 Albums of 2013
Listed in Tactile Tracks’ Best Metal Albums of 2013
Subrosa at Fall Into Darkness Fest 2012
It’s no exaggeration to say Utah’s Subrosa comprised the majority of my decision to make the trek from Sacramento to Portland. They rarely play live, and when they do it’s either in their hometown of Salt Lake City or at an obscure venue in the Pacific Northwest. OK, the latter was still the case, but sometimes you just need to go to the music, you know? Carson was just as stoked as I was to see the ladies and gentlemen flex their thundering orchestral doom at a venue that could actually handle the sonic complexities of balancing two electric violins with the standard guitar, bass and drums, not to mention Rebecca Vernon’s breathy incantations. When the band lurched into “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes”, I knew the guys manning the boards earned their stripes (Vernon would later tell me they spent a half-hour soundchecking the strings before the venue opened). On record, Subrosa’s apocalyptic sonatas are hypnotic and foreboding; live, their sound is positively enveloping. Vernon’s choruses – terse and declarative phrases heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy – transform into powerful mantras, and Kim Pack and Sarah Pendleton’s violins flit between soothing lullabies and droning hornet’s nests. “We’re in the shadow of a dying world,” Vernon intoned during “The Inheritance”’s waning minutes as the room grew darker with each refrain.
Salt Lake City Weekly / CityWeekly.net
SLC’s Subrosa Score With Pitchfork & Decibel
Salt Lake City doom-folk-metal-other-adjective-here band Subrosa have landed on two prestigious year-end lists with their February release No Help For the Mighty Ones. While the band itself is currently on hiatus, Subrosa’s heavier-than-cement-stilettos album No Help For the Mighty Ones (recorded by SLC’s Andy Patterson and released by Canadian label Profound Lore; recently limited-issued on vinyl) came in at No. 20 on both Pitchfork and Decibel Magazine’s Top Metal Albums of 2011. The ladies just barely missed out on a trifecta with a Grammy nomination, however, since celebrated “metal” band Sum 41 was somehow in the running. [Update: No Help also hit No. 3 at MetalSucks.net]
20. Subrosa: No Help for the Mighty Ones [Profound Lore]
This Salt Lake City “female dominated” doom-pop quartet has plenty of 1990s alt hooks in their violin-lined, stoner-folk sludge. No Help for the Mighty Ones was mixed and mastered by Marduk bassist Magnus Devo Andersson, but will have no problem appealing to the more adventurous Breeders fans out there.
Decibel Top 20 of 2011
1. Tombs – Path of Totality
2. Opeth- Heritage
3. Mastodon – The Hunter
4. In Solitude – The World. The Flesh. The Devil.
5. Brutal Truth- End Time
6. Hate Eternal – Phoenix Amongst the Ashes
7. YOB – Atma
8. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room
9. Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual
10. Junius – Reports From The Threshold of Death
11. Graveyard – Hisingen Blues
12. Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand
13. Exhumed – All Guts, No Glory
14. False – False
15. Autopsy – Macabre Eternal
16. Revocation – Chaos of Forms
17. Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
18. Obscura – Omnivium
19. Drugs of Faith – Corroded
20. Subrosa – No Help for the Mighty Ones
3. Subrosa – No Help For the Mighty Ones (Profound Lore)
Updated note – Easily one of the most beautiful and haunting records I’ve heard in years. If Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) fronted a funeral doom band, it would be Subrosa. There is so much wonderful depression going on here it is hard to describe. Take the arid desolation of Across Tundras, combine it with the quiet desperation of an angst-filled P.J. Harvey song, mix in some screaming violins from hell, and cross-breed it with a Godspeed You! Black Emperor cacophonous maelstrom and you begin to get the picture. Fans of Agalloch, Grayceon, YOB, Thou, Salome, and Earth will get/dig this. It is pure, brilliant metallic moodiness with plaintive instrumentation, deathly growls, atonal multi-layered group choruses, concrete crawl drumming, and oh so much more. Easily an early favorite for Album of the Year. (Review first appeared 4/6/11)
No Help For The Mighty Ones, artwork by Glyn Smyth
Subrosa are a doomy band from Salt Lake City. Their lineup is unique: two female violinists, a female guitarist/vocalist, and a male rhythm section. Gender matters here – see below.
Glyn Smyth did the artwork for No Help for the Mighty Ones. He also did the artwork for Unearthly Trance’s V. V’s cover is good, but I like its liner notes even more. Their assemblage of drawings, symbols, numbers, and fonts drapes the album in an occult visual atmosphere. You can read Smyth’s background regarding V’s artwork here.
If I were a visual artist and I heard “The Inheritance”, I wouldn’t know where to start. (This is why I’m not a visual artist.) The song is both pedestrian and interesting. Its core is standard stoner rock, but its violins and noisy bridge are nice embellishments. No images come to my mind (except for a live pairing with Black Math Horseman).
Smyth, however, is much more imaginative and resourceful. In this blog post, he lays out in detail the process behind his cover for Subrosa’s record (see above). Three parts jumped out at me.
The band suggested concept regarding the union & balancing of male and female energies
This regards the album’s title, but could also refer to the band itself.
I often find magickal symbolism to be very dense and overpowering – indeed this is its very purpose and attraction, but I was keen to avoid swamping the composition with a mass of shapes and symbol
Weapon’s From the Devil’s Tomb comes to mind. To me, its cover falls victim to “swamping the composition with a mass of shapes and symbol”. I appreciate density of meaning, but that cover is a mess. In more minimalist hands, like, say, the minds behind Norma Evangelium Diaboli, it would have done well with just the wheel and the body hanging from it. Perhaps that small image could have folded out into a totality of the mess. Or perhaps the various images on the cover could have been spread through the liner notes.
Smyth’s treatment of symbolism is much cleaner. When you compare the cover of Subrosa’s album to that of Unearthly Trance’s V, it’s obvious that the same mind is at work.
The band were keen to have some sort of sigil representing the album title
Few bands are this directed about their visual presentation. The idea of encapsulating a title – words, with their attendant meanings – in a symbol is a powerful one. If you think about it, many metal album titles lend themselves to potent symbology: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, In the Sign of Evil, Nemesis Divina, even the Soundgarden EP Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas. Led Zeppelin’s IV had a representative sigil (“Zoso”). More metal bands should explore this device.
I am not a magick and symbols kind of person, but I appreciate how steeped Smyth is in these things, and how he holistically ties them in with music to create powerful works. Again, for rare insight into the imagery behind a record (in this case, Subrosa’s upcoming one), read Smyth’s blog post here. Much energy runs through it.
Subrosa Live Review: Clamfight in Jersey, 03.19.11
Highly-stringed Salt Lake City five-piece Subrosa released their Strega full-length debut in 2008 on I Hate Records. Making the jump to Profound Lore for the 2011 follow-up, the band, which includes two violinists, guitar, bass and drums, now unveils No Help for the Mighty Ones, a varied 59 minutes of melancholic doom that, despite its inherent drama and “extra” instrumentation (I put “extra” in quotes there because the violins don’t actually feel extraneous or tacked onto the surrounding music), remains definitively American. No Help for the Mighty Ones was recorded by Andy Patterson (Iota, etc.), and though the structures are mostly open, Subrosa culls together a couple genuinely memorable moments throughout the eight tracks, the vocals of guitarist Rebecca Vernon having a haunting quality, backed by both violinists Kim Pack and Sarah Pendleton, and prove capable of more than the kind of post-metal sub-melodic monotony so many experimental outfits seem willing to settle for.
Drummer Zach Hatsis starts off album opener “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” with a war stomp and is soon joined by Vernon’s guitar. The song, which according to the liner notes is based lyrically on Cormac McCarthy’s novel 2006 The Road, is among the shorter of No Help for the Mighty Ones’ tracks at 5:51 (only “Whippoorwill” and “House Carpenter” are shorter), but still serves as a decent introduction to the wide breadth of the album. Aside from its “Hey, we read books” appeal, the rich tonality and textured feel of its ending movement is the first show of Subrosa’s melodic prowess. As the track leads directly into the brown-note bass intro of “Beneath the Crown,” handled by Dave Jones, it’s readily apparent Subrosa are casting a wide sonic net. It’s not so much a gradual build as a lull into soon-smashed security, but the band pulls it off well anyhow, Hatsis driving the move into faster revelations about three minutes in capped by frantic violin work and combined clean singing and screams. Magnus “Devo” Andersson, who also mixed Strega, does an excellent job balancing clarity among the instrumentation (not easy with some of the effects that come up) and the creation of an overall aural wash. The linear path “Beneath the Crown” follows is well worth following.
Structure, which has been alluded to already, is more of an issue when it comes to the track order itself than it is within the individual songs. No Help for the Mighty Ones peaks early with its most memorable and hardest-hitting cut, the 11:44 “Stonecarver,” which immediately follows “Beneath the Crown.” The five-piece do a good job using noise to bridge the gaps between songs, but Subrosa’s most effective build just arrives too soon, the track starting off with eerie half-whispered foreign-language spoken word over ringing out guitar and gradually moving from a darkened folk feel to a driving rhythm (if every album has to have its “Stones From the Sky” moment, this is it for Subrosa), the delivery of the title line, and an apex that’s no less exciting for how outwardly engaging it is. I’m not saying it needed to be the last track on No Help for the Mighty Ones, but even “The Inheritance,” which is probably better at least as far as the vocal melody and guitar line goes, is a comedown in terms of energy, and I find in listening I’m more inclined to long for what just passed than focus on what’s still coming.
That’s a problem, but ultimately it’s Subrosa’s diversity of sound that saves the record. “The Inheritance” has a lush feel that “Stonecarver” didn’t, and nine-minute “Attack on Golden Mountain” finds the vocals following the riff (not something Subrosa does often) to excellent affect. Pack and Pendleton do a lot to distinguish themselves and the band as a whole, and while it would be easy to label it a gimmick, the material doesn’t bear that out. No Help for the Mighty Ones is perhaps strongest in terms of its atmosphere and mood, and the violins are essential to the creation of both. Even as Vernon is backed by guttural growling toward the end of “Attack on Golden Mountain,” it’s more the instrumentation cutting through that has me hooked to the song. That’s less the case for “Whippoorwill,” where they come in later, but a more grounded riff and vocal melody turns the track into a highlight nonetheless, even if it’s one immediately overshadowed by Subrosa’s harmonized a cappella interpretation of the Celtic folk song, “House Carpenter,” a classic Christian morality tale put to beautiful use. “Stonecarver” probably would have been able to stand up to it, if only for the additional armament its encompassing length would provide, but “Whippoorwill” is almost completely forgotten by the time “House Carpenter” lets you exhale again.
In this age of easily-renumbered files, it’s an easy fix if you want to make it, or if you agree it’s justified (I have the CD and so haven’t done it apart from skipping back and forth to hear how it might sound), but more important is the lasting affect of No Help for the Mighty Ones as a whole. “Dark Country” closes out with a reinforcement of the varying aspects of Subrosa’s sound – thick guitar and bass tones, excellent drumming, violins in more than an accompanying role and rich vocals – and when the finale is over, it’s a record that seems to require multiple listens to really sink in. Perhaps true to the band’s literate nature, they don’t bend to accessibility, but rather, challenge the listener to understand the moves they’re making and come up with a viable interpretation of them. No Help for the Mighty Ones, apart from a few passages, doesn’t offer much help along the journey, but it does prove to be a trip worthy of undertaking. Jones’ bass, so effective in opening “Beneath the Crown,” ends “Dark Country,” and the rumble therein is no less triumphant. Approach with an open mind, and be ready to take it on more than once, and you should be fine.
Subrosa: No Help For The Mighty Ones review
Posted on 3/2011 By: Dan Obstkrieg
The final short story in James Joyce’s collection Dubliners is entitled “The Dead,” and begins with the following line: “Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet.” The story involves an elaborate dance and dinner party thrown annually by the elderly aunts of the protagonist, Gabriel. Lily is the housemaid, and is swept off her feet by the rush of visitors arriving to whom she must attend. All of which has fuck-all to do with heavy metal, right? Well, the reason I invoke this story here has to do with the dual significance of the name Lily. Lilies have associations with funerals and with Easter, thus with both death and rebirth. A Lily stands at the entrance to this house, but whether marking passage to the realm of the dead or the possibility of life renewed remains an unanswered question. Subrosa’s glorious new album No Help For The Mighty Ones exults in this same tension between dark and light, between desolation and triumph, and, just like Joyce’s writing, is a miraculous demonstration of the curative – perhaps transformative – power of art.
So, just what in the hell is it that has got me so worked up?
Well, just in case Salome’s bass-less doom wasn’t enough of a non-traditional set-up, Salt Lake City’s Subrosa is here to twist your head around with three vocalists and two electric violins. Unlike Salome’s more straight-ahead doom aggression, Subrosa plays a sludge metal for open spaces, reminiscent of both the bleak dust-bowl Americana of Earth, Across Tundras, and The Gault, and the textures and melodic flirtations with 90s lo-fi and indie rock that were featured so prominently on Kylesa’s Spiral Shadow. Subrosa’s sound is infinitely bleak and moving, and the album is an immaculately crafted journey that leaves me uncertain of exactly where the album is taking me; I just know that I want to go there.
No Help For The Mighty Ones is, despite all its electric elements, a wonderfully natural-sounding record, thanks to the excellent mixing and mastering of Marduk’s Magnus “Devo” Andersson. The drum production is perfectly organic, and the bass is full and thick and heaves with the crackle of heavily-amped silence, while the guitar has a very dry distortion, giving plenty of space for all the other elements (multiple vocal tracks, strings, the occasional harmonica and dulcimer and so forth) to breathe. The electric violins are consistently engaging throughout the record, often carrying on the type of harmonic dialogue usually reserved for dual guitars. In fact, if one thing could be said to define Subrosa’s essential sound, it would be this communitarian multiplicity of voices – there are multiple vocalists, sure, but the bass tone and the drum fills and the feverish strings also speak lyrically throughout, bathing these sludge-derived riffs in equal measures of sorrow and joy. See? Lily and lily.
If you’re not yet convinced by my enthused ramblings, album opener “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” will tell you all you need to know about the entire album. The song is inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, and is suitably desolate, yet enlivened by the beautiful texture of overlapping strings in separate stereo channels. The transition between the deliberate, modal riffing of the verses and the classically heart-tugging chord progression of the chorus hits like a thunderclap, all of which builds to the weary-yet-defiant coda of “How long must my journey go?” The line is eventually doubled vocally and jumped up an octave, and in all truth and honesty, when the strings chime back in for the last few recitations, it’s only some kinda goddamned robot what would not find itself genuinely misty-eyed.
The electric violins drench the riffs in a wide variety of textural atmospherics, from frantic staccato stabs to melodic legato phrasing. Occasionally, the strings invoke the best tension-building passages of Godspeed You Black Emperor! The bass just lumbers along on its own for the first two minutes of “Beneath the Crown,” but then the strings join in. This engrossing string-led riff motif doesn’t actually break the 3/4 meter of the song, but it does force the mind to wrap around its 1-2 / 1-2 / 1-2 / 1-2-3 / 1-2-3 double-time, which sounds a mess but becomes effortlessly entrancing.
One of the only criticisms I’ve been able to muster is that “Stonecarver” takes a bit too long to get going, with its spoken word excerpts from a Russian fairy tale. By the time the tune lurches into proper shape, however, any impatience is soon forgotten. The slow section that starts around 7:50 is just fabulous – sit down and just listen to the earthly hum of the bass when the guitars cut out, and jive along with the magnificently understated drum fills. This brief section, even though it lasts maybe 16 bars or so, is so suggestive of the new Earth record in its familiarity, its warmth, its use of buzz and space as an improvisational tool that I’d be willing to start a petition for a Subrosa/Dylan Carlson collaboration right frigging now. The concluding section with its bellowed, titular chorus (“There’s no help, for the mighty ones”) is equally captivating.
One of the great strengths of the album is that the lyrics are direct, yet lyrical and thoughtful, more like prose-poems than pop songcraft. Though there’s no musical similarity, lyrically, Subrosa displays an affinity with Trent Reznor’s skill at writing short, affecting phrases that, while superficially somewhat plain-spoken, become extremely powerful – almost incantatory – through repetition in their proper musical context. Witness, for example, “The Inheritance,” with its lament, “We’re in the shadow of a dying world.” It’s a hell of a way to close out a nearly flawless side A, with this doomed lyric followed by the haunting dirge of a music-box, echoing across the Great Plains, steadily ticking down its time.
Friends, here is where things get delicate. I hesitate to even broach the issue, but I guess it probably needs to be said: Subrosa is a band with mostly female members. Now, to be clear, I really don’t think this matters even one fucking tiny little bit; still, the world is not always as it should be, and it might just become A Thing that this band is “female-fronted” or “feminine” or “some other stupid bullshit.” Therefore, I can think of few things which would make me happier than that Subrosa could become to metal like Sleater-Kinney has been to punk: meaning, go right ahead and try to make this music somehow about gender, but I guarantee that before you get a word in, your stupid fucking mind will have been blown, and your contrary voice silenced, and your brain will ooze slowly out of your ringing ears in inescapable obedience to the cataclysmic rock thunder, the primordial Ur-music to which each band has carved out its right. So sure, those were some words about sex, but these are above all else sounds about people, so listen up and fuck off.
Like many great albums, No Help For The Mighty Ones is clearly designed like two sides of a record. “Attack on Golden Mountain,” then, is a perfect invocation for the album’s second side, like dawn breaking over craggy mountains and dead trees. Witness again a texturally-rich but spacious and totally open mid-section, which then drops into one of the record’s fattest, most primally-satisfying DOOM riffs. “Whippoorwill,” on the other hand, displays some of the albums most indie-ish moments, with a perfectly gorgeous, forward-driving chorus, drenched in lilting strings, like “Eleanor Rigby”-gone-doomed-Americana. In fact, while we’re on the topic of the vastness of the American plains and the promise of the West, I’d wager a fair amount that at least a few of Subrosa’s members have spent many a long, lonely evening with Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, such is the mournful resonance of this music. Subrosa’s music doesn’t necessarily defy categorization (which has become something of a music critic cliché by now), but it certainly discourages it.
“House Carpenter” trades in the tumbleweeds and mirror-stark mountain lakes of American lore for a stirring a cappella rendition of a Celtic folk song which recalls the rich sadness of contemporary British folk troupe The Unthanks. Album closer “Dark Country” flits between tempos in the verses and chorus, before breaking down into a massive, pit-dredging stomp, accompanied by a panicked flurry of ascending strings. The lyrics plot a map to some ominous inevitability: “I know you’re coming for me now / I feel you coming for me now.” Who knows, too, which Lily will be found in that dark country beyond human reckoning? The song and the album crawl along to a stop amidst smashing drum punishment, until finally, there is only the bass, left to reverberate, disintegrate, and fall apart to buzzing pieces so thick you can practically see the roiling sound waves lengthening, and lengthening, and disappearing.
To bring us back to where we began: Joyce’s story “The Dead” concludes with what is perhaps the most singularly beautiful paragraph in the English language, and while I would typically recoil from quoting any snippet out of its proper literary context, the more I listen to No Help For The Mighty Ones, the more I cannot escape this final, perfect, most heart-rending sentence from Joyce: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Great art should make the soul feel enlarged through the epiphanic recognition of its utter smallness. Those words do that, as do these sounds, like the descent of their last end.
By Chris D. 9/28/11
To quote your bio: “Subrosa comprises the deep thrum that makes up the underlying plasma of our invisible surroundings.” What does that mean?
Sarah Pendleton: We are attempting to be the sonic interpreters of that which is intangible.
The name Subrosa implies mystery. Something hidden. Do you actively try to keep things a bit obscure?
Rebecca Vernon: I don’t like it when people wear their convictions on their sleeve. We aren’t trying to create a mystique in an obnoxious way. It’s just that being obvious is so boring.
Zach Hatsis: You’d be surprised what living next to the largest body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere will do to you, or through you. We’re permeable membranes.
What’s Salt Lake like as far as heavy music goes?
Zach Hatsis: Because the polar contrast of culture in our city is so immense, Salt Lake is a Holyland-of-Hev in the Western United States. INVDRS (Corruption), Eagle Twin (Southern Lord), Iota (Small Stone), Bird Eater (Black Market Activities), Gaza (Black Market), who just toured Europe with Converge, and past bands Iceburn (Revelation) and Clear (Revelation), to name a few, are all native miners of the secret salt. P.S. Phil from INVDRS did vocals on “Stonecarver.”
Rebecca Vernon: Other local heavy bands we like are Minerva, IX Zealot, Gravecode Nebula, Old Timer, Dwellers, Laughter, White Ferrari, and Top Dead Celebrity.
I think the general perception of Salt Lake City is that it’s a stuffy, Mormon ruled town that’s no fun and possesses no cultural color. Any truth to that?
Kim Pack: No fun? The Osmonds and Temple Square? What’s no fun about that? The majority of people who think Salt Lake is no fun have never been here. All you have to do is go to one show to realize how much is going on. There’s just as much culture here as any other city… Tons of artists, phenomenal musicians, zines, restaurants, film, writers, etc.
Rebecca Vernon: Because there’s a very dominant conservative culture in Utah, it has created an equally strong, vibrant counterculture. The angriest band I’ve ever seen was from Provo.
Zach Hatsis: Our cultural flame might not be as large as other cities, but it burns bright!
Admittedly No Help For The Mighty Ones is the first Subrosa album I’ve heard. Kind of reminded me of a cross between Miranda Sex Garden, Amon Düül II, and Sleep. I gather the reactions to your previous albums have been mixed?
Rebecca Vernon: Yes, good guess. People loved or hated our last album. They don’t always know how to take us. Thanks for the Sleep comparison. Miranda Sex Garden is interesting because we do have some pretty deep gothic roots. Subrosa was even voted “Best Gothic/Darkwave band in Utah” one year for a City Weekly contest. [Laughs]
Where do you think Subrosa fits musically? Doom metal? Avantgarde metal?
Zach Hatsis: A friend of ours from Black Seas of Infinity once said we were “Ancient Magical Doom.” Does that count?
Dave Jones: Someone called us orchestral doom, so that’s what I tell people.
Rebecca Vernon: Once a reviewer called us “doom punk,” back in the Strega days. Just don’t call us grunge.
How has Subrosa developed from Strega to No Help For The Mighty Ones?
Zach Hatsis: New members.
Kim Pack: Song length.
Zach Hatsis: New members equal longer song lengths. Rebecca Vernon: I think our songwriting has developed a lot. There are more complex song structures, variety, melodies, more emotional resonance. And everything is becoming heavier and darker.
Sarah Pendleton: Our musical hydra grew a new head.
There are some interesting things happening on No Help For The Mighty Ones. ‘Beneath the Crown’ has a very eerie October-like feel to it while ‘House Carpenter’ is a bit like bluegrass a cappella. Is there a central sonic motivator?
Zach Hatsis: We all have very diverse musical backgrounds ranging from jazz, classical, folk, sludge, and delta blues. Somehow it all came together to create this record.
Rebecca Vernon: The only central sonic motivator is to be as devastating as possible.
Is there a lyrical center? If so, what is it?
Rebecca Vernon: Social and political commentary, and personal darkness.
Who are the mighty ones, by the way?
Sarah Pendelton: Those suffering from an illusion of earthly power.
Rebecca Vernon:Those arrogant enough to believe that they can get away with murder. The album artwork (done by Glyn Smyth of Scrawled Design) is based on the story of Tere Jo Dupperault. The murderer of her family killed himself when he found out Tere was alive and had the ability to reveal his crime. His suicide was particularly violent—the result of a bad conscience, it was speculated. He did kill two children, after all, and tried to kill 11-year-old Tere, too. We sneer at the concept of a Christian brimstone hell, rightfully, but the true hell is a ruined conscience.
Kim Pack: It’s weird how Rebecca’s lyrics and album title tied into a book [Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean] that she read after the fact.
Do you feel that heavy bands with female members have finally become an accepted reality rather than something for the press to single out as a novelty? Then again, Jo Bench has been playing bass for Bolt Thrower for 22 years.
Kim Pack: It’s somewhat disappointing that the words “finally” and “accepted” are used in this question.
Sarah Pendleton: I have no idea, and I don’t care.
Rebecca Vernon: Unfortunately, I can’t foresee a day when females in heavy bands will not be a novelty. It is becoming more common, but the Liz Buckinghams and Angela Gossows of the world are still exceptions to the rule.
Dave Jones: It’s not something I think about. I listen to bands for the music—for sonic reasons, not visual reasons.
Sarah Pendleton: Except for Katy Perry.
Kim Pack: And Julie Christmas. She is amazing.
How’d you end up on Profound Lore?
Rebecca Vernon: Chris got in touch with me after OlaBlomkvist (ex-co-owner of I Hate) signed us to I Hate. We stayed in loose touch since then. When Ola left I Hate Records, I sought out Chris to see if he wanted to release our new album. He did.
The label’s experiencing a bit of growth lately. Are you excited to be part of the label as it ascends from obscure boutique label to an indie with a significant profile?
Zach Hatsis: Absolutely, I was lucky enough to travel to New York over summer 2010 to see Krallice and Portal play. I loved the contrast of the two bands. Profound Lore definitely is the captain’s platter of metal labels.
Rebecca Vernon: It’s been great to see the label grow and some much-deserving artists get more recognition. I have a lot of respect for Profound Lore and their roster. I think we are in capable hands.
April 2011 / Decibel Magazine
Ask anyone who doesn’t call Salt Lake City home and they’ll probably relate Utah’s most populous city to strange Mormons, endorheic lakes or, if they’re really hip, the Osmonds. But for the denizens—in this case, members of psych-sludge outfit Subrosa—Brigham Young’s steel and concrete metropolis is an out-of-the-way place to create angst-ridden, if slightly offbeat, metal. In fact, some of the most violent and heavy stuff west of the Mississippi—Gaza, Bird Eater, INVDRS, Yaotl Mictlan, IX Zealot, etc.—has origins in the 45th state. “The majority of people who think Salt Lake is no fun have never been here,” says violinist/vocalist Kim Pack. “All you have to do is go to one show to realize how much is going on. There’s just as much culture here as any other city. Tons of artists, phenomenal musicians, zines, restaurants, film, writers, etc.” Sounds like “Life Elevated,” Utah’s newest slogan, is right on the money. Then again, when tickets from either coast hover around three Bens, it might be more cost-effective to pick up a copy of Subrosa’s new full-length No Help for the Mighty Ones for a Jackson and change. It’s “Life Elevated” for sure, but instead of ski resorts, Joshua trees and alien salt pans, the quintet counters with heady odes to the dark—like Sleep (circa Jerusalem) reinterpreting Amon Düül II (circa Yeti) while suffering from the beginning stages of altitude sickness—and the people who reside there. “We all have very diverse musical backgrounds ranging from jazz, classical, folk, sludge and delta blues,” drummer Zachary Hatsis posits. “Somehow it all came together to create this record.”
Posted on 02 May 2012 by Curt
Subrosa are an American band from Salt Lake City. They play a heavy, doomy style of metal peppered with violins and other sonic weirdness. The band made quite a splash in the North American underground last year with their release No Help For The Mighty Ones which was acclaimed by publications as prestigious as Decibel Magazine. Check the album out on Bandcamp after reading the below interview that I recently conducted with band leader Rebecca Vernon.
Curt: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. The past year seems to have been pretty good for the band with more exposure in metal magazines and a placement in Decibel’s Top 40 of the year feature. For those readers who have been living under a rock, can you go over the band’s history?
Rebecca: Subrosa started in the summer of 2005, Sarah and I shared an amp between us when we’d practice. I was fretting a lot about getting a demo together and getting people to join. I knew what I wanted Subrosa to sound like, but I knew a demo would help others want to join. We released The Worm has Turned in 2006, Strega in 2008 on I Hate Records, Swans Trapped in Ice EP in 2009, and NHFTMO in 2010. We played festivals in Salt Lake City, shows, went on a couple short tours in the US, and Europe in 2009.
Curt: One of the things that impressed me about “No Help for the Mighty Ones” is the fact that you do so many things that aren’t considered “standard” for a metal band, like violins and even an a capella song! Are you ever concerned that you may alienate the average metalhead with your arrangements?
Rebecca: No. I have a revulsion towards following formulas. Like saying to yourself, “I want to sound like such-and-such a band/genre,” and then doing it. There is something to really loving a band and wanting to do what they’re doing, but you have to put your own spin on it. I don’t really care about “appealing” to a certain “target audience.” I can think of nothing that sounds more … corporate.
Curt: A lot of your lyrics seem to be rather story-like , rather than just something you can sing along to. Was this intentional? What is your process for writing a song?
Rebecca: I definitely use story-telling to get across emotions; another trace of folk music in Subrosa coming out. It’s also one of the most ancient, primal ways to convey a universal emotion or idea. I have a hard time coming right out and saying what I’m feeling in a song. I cringe when I hear singers say something like, “I feel so lost and confused.” Ha. In fiction writing classes, you learn, “Show, don’t tell.”
Curt: What do you feel is more important for Subrosa’s music? The lyrics or the sound? Or do you feel thhat they’re they equally important? Rebecca: Both are equally important. They go hand-in-hand to convey an emotion or idea. They are like mirrors amplifying each other.
Curt: As a Mormon do you ever feel that playing heavy metal is in conflict with your faith? How do you deal with drinking, smoking and drug usage at your concerts? Do you ever see yourself using your music as a vehicle to spread your faith, or do you see this as something completely different?
Rebecca: I don’t see heavy music as being in conflict with a belief in God. I do see it as being in conflict with other people’s idea of God. If people want to paint God as a narrow-minded being because they themselves are narrow-minded, then that’s their choice. I do not see my music as a way to “spread my faith.” I have a strong revulsion towards that. I am turned off by Christian rock trying to spread Christian ideals, sorry. I try to sing about universal human experiences that have nothing to do with one’s beliefs. You can believe God is a silver robot with bells for eyes, but you still suffer. So I sing about suffering. It’s always been easy for me to avoid drinking, smoking and drugs in the music scene. I don’t know why. I guess everyone has their Achilles heel, but those are not mine.
Curt: When is the next album due out? How do you plan on topping “No Help for the Mighty One’s Success”? Do you feel any pressure seeing as it was so well received?
Rebecca: Right after NHFTMO came out, I wasn’t thinking beyond it at all. Now I’d like to move on. I’m not worried about “topping” it. I am worried about getting closer to expressing the things I’ve been trying to express all along. Every album seems to get a little closer.
Curt: How did your deal with Profound Lore come about? Have they been a good fit for you?
Rebecca: Chris approached me after Strega came out and said he’d be interested in putting out the next release. We kind of stayed in touch after that. When Ola Blomkvist of I Hate Records left the label, his partner wasn’t as interested in Subrosa, so I went to Chris about releasing NHFTMO. It’s been great working with Chris, no pressure, very low-key. He gives all the bands total artistic freedom.
Curt: What are your top 5 albums of all time both metal and non-metal?
Rebecca: It’s really hard for me to think of the Top 5 exactly. So here are 5 albums that I’ve loved and have had a big influence on me: 1. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile 2. Red Bennies – Famil (rest30.com) 3. PJ Harvey – Rid of Me 4. Ulver – A Quick Fix of Melancholy 5. Isis – Celestial
Curt: Are you ever going to do an extensive tour of Europe. Or N. America or do you not forsee this in the future?
Rebecca: We were thinking of doing a short tour this year, either in the US or Europe. I’ll post it on Facebook if we do.
Curt: You’ve mentioned in the past that you prefer a physical product (CD, vinyl etc) to the digital version of music. Why do you prefer this to being able to hold hundreds of albums in your pocket at any given time?
Rebecca: I don’t know why. I feel so alienated from the music when it’s a like, naked track mixed with hundreds of other tracks, reduced to tiny 10-pt font telling me what it is and the length of the track. I still listen to digital music, but having something in my hand, the artwork, the liner notes, the back of the CD, helps me feel a connection to the band and whatever they are trying to express. It’s like the difference between a book and a Kindle. Yes, I read things online all the time. But I prefer the printed page.
Curt: Has the band had any troubles with coverage in general by the metal community due to the band being predominantly female? How have you been able to overcome this? Why do you think that female (and female fronted) bands are looked upon negatively in the metal community?
Rebecca: I have mostly felt acceptance from the metal and rock community. I think sometimes there is a backlash against female/female-fronted bands if the women in that band are a gimmick. The metal community can smell insincerity from a mile away. Some gimmicks they embrace, like spiked gauntlets. But some gimmicks are irritating. They can feel like a commercial using hot girls in order to trick you into buying something.
Curt: What does the cover of “No Help For the Mighty Ones” signify?
Rebecca: There is a lot of symbolism embedded in it. I will just copy and paste Glyn’s explanation of the symbols he used. (The funny thing is, some of the symbols he used are really personal to me, out of thousands of symbols he had to choose from, but he didn’t know that when he was creating it.) “All imagery is directly related to “Daughter of The Mighty Ones” imagery and Tarot / Hemetic / Kabbalistic associations. After much experimentation I finally abstracted the idea of the raft into the protective glyph / mandala featured -I simply couldn’t get the raft image to work right but I’ve tried to adhere closely to the initial brief as possible in terms of the “feel” of the illustration. The central composition is meant to reference the Alchemical symbol for salt (circle bisected by straight line) – Salt is the alchemical correspondence of The Empress / Daughter of Mighty Ones – Early versions of the Empress have her as winged, while later versions suggest wings. I decided to include actual wings as they aided the composition. – a single star was more effective compositionally than star filled sky and symboilises Venus / Empress – Hebrew symbol is Dalet – Alchemical symbol is Earth = Empress / DOTMO – have incorporated balancing scales imagery previously suggested into front, rather than rear composition by using the album title sigil – The serpents in corner again add a dynamic element and reference the Leviathan concept suggested by Zach
Posted by morganyevans on Friday, May 13, 2011
Utah’s Subrosa have stunned the doom laden corners of the metal world with their latest release No Help For The Mighty Ones (Out now on Profound Lore). This is music with a gorgeous ache to it that can impact you like a bluesy avalanche. Earthy and real yet also fantastically surreal, Subrosa have set the mark high for 2011 and are reaping well-deserved critical acclaim. I spoke with Rebecca Vernon about the elemental power and themes of this release, working again with Magnus Devo Andersson (Marduk) plus collaborating with my band Antidote 8 on a song of ours recently (a huge treat for such a big Subrosa fan as myself).
Morgan Y. Evans: Hi Rebecca! I can’t believe it is three years since the last time I interviewed you for the Strega album! That was literally my favorite album of the year that it came out and it is so nice to see your amazing band getting more and more recognition. A few years ago I was starting to get really jaded about even underground music and now I think there is a resurgence of some great intelligent and heavy bands (and you are definitely at the forefront of the pack). I guess, I don’t know where to start! What would you like to say about the time between albums before we get into the new record? You’ve had some line up changes, of course…
Rebecca K Vernon: Thanks for your kind words, Morgan! It is weird to think three years has gone by. Hopefully not such a long time until the next album. I’m glad you liked Strega so much. For No Help for the Mighty Ones, Subrosa had a new drummer (Zach Hatsis), bassist (Dave Jones) and second violinist (Kim Pack). All had joined about two years ago.
MYE: The string arrangements on this record are so beautiful. I am particularly fond of “Dark Country” ever since I heard a rough on your Myspace ages ago. It reminds me of scorching things so they can grow over again after the fire with a fresh start. Do you feel like you are all getting better and better and more cohesive as a band through time and familiarity? Is there much discussion when writing nowadays on texture or vibe? How thought out is it at this point?
RKV: “Dark Country” is exactly like scorching something so it can grow over again … it’s about a dark time in my life when I was 20, that eventually caused me to have to “regrow” myself. A crossroads…like the kind in “Settle Down”! It’s funny you bring up that analogy because I feel like I’m going through another period like that right now, and a couple of my friends have used the phoenix analogy. I think the band did get more cohesive with this album. It was a perfect alchemy. We didn’t discuss the songwriting too much. The initial songwriting for a song is not very deliberate. The initial riff just comes straight from the gut.
MYE: Everyone is talking about how perfect the record art is for this album. It’s striking and classic looking, powerful and occult yet classy. How did the artwork come about?
RKV: I researched different artists for awhile, trying to find one with a style that I wanted to capture the story the artwork is based on. When I found Glyn Smyth, I knew he was just what I was looking for. Stark pen and ink-type drawings, high contrast, very detailed. Glyn worked with me and Zach in designing the artwork for the album. Zach is very knowledgeable about symbolism and so had a lot of input with that. The album artwork is based on the story of Tere Jo Dupperault. Her family was murdered on a sailing boat in the Caribbean by the captain of the ship, and Tere Jo barely escaped with her life. When the captain found out Tere Jo was alive and had been rescued by a passing ship, he killed himself. He knew Tere Jo knew the truth, and that she had the ability to reveal his crime.
MYE: That’s heavy. I love that there is such back-story to it but the art is so evocative on its’ own as well. Now…“Attack On Golden Mountain” has such an amazing vibe and then the bridge is like stumbling into this thrilling sort of ritual before the mountaintop 5 minute mark drops down on your head! That and other moments like the choruses of “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” which really elevate things into the void! I remember I played that one for my engineer Jay Andersen when I was showing him your band and he was impressed with that such reverb drenched sludge cacophony could still be that oppressive AND uplifting at the same time.
RKV: Ha … thank you. I think that is a good way to describe Subrosa … oppressive and uplifting. Dark and light. I guess I try to capture in my songwriting, the darkness and evil in the world, the despair—because that’s what life is about. But I also try to convey strength—strength to overcome anything difficult or crushing in this world.
MYE: I was thinking yesterday that if I have a child someday I would name it Sabbath (whether it is a girl or boy…I love it as a girl’s name!). Do you think that is fucked up? I was watching the Heaven and Hell DVD from Radio City Music Hall where Dio is just killing it on “After All (The Dead)”, one of my favorite songs from Dehumanizer and I was thinking about how cool it is that Sabbath and Zeppelin proved so well you can tell dark stories that are both multi-faceted and engaging while rocking hard on a grand scale! I think your band is certainly a great torch carrier of that tradition, where there are no limits to the imagination.
RKV: I think Sabbath is a great name for a girl or boy. My friend Gavin, the drummer for INVDRS, has a black cat named Sabbath. I think Subrosa does have some of that “grand, epic storytelling” lyrical style on this album, pretty accidentally, really, especially on “Attack on Golden Mountain.” I just really like stories as an art form; they have a depth and layering effect that goes beyond a one-dimensional tale or message. Folk music does this a lot, and I know it’s rubbed off on me. I have a degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Utah and I like to tell stories. What can I say? : )
MYE: (laughing) Profound Lore is such a good label with a true emphasis on art over artifice. How did you come to be part of the stable of bands? It’s great to see your band and Grayceon both put out records in close succession!
RKV: Profound Lore has been great to Subrosa and I think Chris Bruni recognized the efforts of what we were trying to convey with this album. I “met” Chris virtually after Strega was released on I Hate Records. He liked the album and asked me to consider releasing the next album on Profound Lore. Three years later, here we are.
MYE: Magnus Devo Andersson worked with you again on this record. How was your communication now after him being more familiar with the band since Strega?
RKV: Before mixing No Help, I had always been intimidated by Devo because, well, he’s in Marduk. He worked through Ola with Strega, and I didn’t have much direct contact with him, but I worked directly with him on No Help for the Mighty Ones. All I can say is, Devo was incredibly kind, supportive and above all, patient with us, through the whole two-month mixing process. Subrosa is challenging to mix, because the bass and down tuned, sludgy guitar tend to step on each other, and there are hardly any mids. But Devo is a champion and did a great job with No Help, just like he did with Strega. Also have to give a shout-out to Salt Lake recording legend Andy Patterson, who recorded No Help here in Salt Lake City at his studio at Counterpoint Recordings. He is also incredibly patience, professional, knowledgeable, mellow and fun to work with. It was his tailoring of a two-amp guitar setup that largely gave this album the heavy guitar tone it has.
MYE: What have been some of the more memorable live moments for you in the last few years. I recall you played with Altar Of Plagues, correct? Playing such emotional and dynamic music must make for some intense onstage chemistry between all of you. Do you ever go into trances up there?
RKV: We did play with Altar of Plagues here in Salt Lake City, at Salt Lake Recording Services. I think we all get into our own world when we play live; it’s strange, we are all keenly aware of each other when we play, but I hardly look at anyone.
MYE: I remember last record I was really blown away by “Crucible” (with the anti-war lyrics of sort of shipping the poor to the front lines over that killer doom riff!) and how you had the worldly awareness sort of combined with a folky, dark mysticism that didn’t seem put on at all like with some bands that try to hard. Your band really has an aura of mystique (harder to cultivate in the micro-blogging/twitter age!). That said, I also love your ability to thematically incorporate old spirituals and nods to the blues and stuff (like on your cameo on my band Antidote 8’s song “Settle Down” that is coming out, where I loved the lyrics you contributed mention of “the crossroads” into my song about a sort of tireless musician’s quest to keep playing forever no matter what). Then there is the “We’re in the shadow of a dying world” line from “The Inheritance”. You seem very aware of nature and spirits/energy and humanity’s interaction with them.
RKV: We probably have an aura of mystique because I hardly ever log into Myspace any more. : )
RKV: I do feel like a lot of what I sing about is a reference to the unseen world. I think the members of Subrosa who played on this album are very spiritual people, all in their own way. I love old spirituals and the blues; there’s something very powerful about “source” music that has not been passed through a filter of commercialism, hype, and superficiality. The original Delta blues really, truly meant something to the people that sang it and listened to it … it was a way to stay sane in the midst of oppression. A way to give voice to that oppression. I love music for that reason, its power to give strength through expression. I love music almost more than anything in the world, for so many reasons.
MYE: Do you mind getting into the inspiration for the album name at all? I could see it being either about politics or maybe even the Elder Gods from Lovecraft (laughing). Do you want it to be more interpretive?
RKV: It would be cool if “the mighty ones” referenced the Elder Gods, preferably Cthulu. But in reality, the “mighty ones” refers to the powerful ones of the Earth, those that are naïve enough to believe that they can get away with murder.
MYE: I guess lastly, what are you overall happiest with about this release and where are you hoping to go from here?
RKV: I am happiest that we were able to capture the emotion, sincerity and energy of the live songs in digital sound waves … sometimes that is hard to do. I am also very happy about the artwork and Chris Bruni releasing the album on Profound Lore.
I think the next album will be more brutal, maybe a little more raw, yet I’d also like to explore the practically suite-like nature of some of the songs. There’s so much room for exploration there. I’d like to experiment with different instruments as well. Tell more stories. I feel like I have four albums inside me right now.
MYE: Let them out! THANKS! You rule! : )
RKV: No, thank you. Thanks for always supporting Subrosa, Morgan. It means a lot.
Posted on Encyclopaedia Metallum
By HeySharpshooter, January 17, 2012:
Often, the joy of discovery is blunted by how much of what you end up discovering is recycled, carbon-copy genre worship with no new ideas and middling intensity. You search and search and search, but for all your effort come up with a few competent and enjoyable, but also pointless and forgettable, albums from bands who won’t be part of your listening rotation a few weeks past their initial spins. However, from time to time, the endless search for something new, something powerful and substantial comes along that reaffirms your love for musical discovery. No Help For The Mighty Ones certainly had that effect on me. By taking the basic doom/sludge formula and turning it upside down while classing it up, Subrosa have created something incredibly somber, rich and emotional without ever coming off as corny or over-wrought.
Like the wails of a long lost lover roaring from the mist, No Help For The Mighty Ones immediately attacks the gut and twists it into all sorts of uncomfortable knots. The off-key, distant crooning of Rebecca Vernon and Sarah Pendleton hypnotizes you, while the shriek of electric violins jar you back into a cold, harsh reality. The guitars act in tandem with the rhythm section to create the fuzzy, ballsy and oddly warm backdrop for the violins to do their masterful work, rarely moving to the forefront. This might be a turn off for some, but Subrosa pull if off so masterfully it is hard to find any fault with it; the tracks meander on achingly from walls of symphonic noise to accessible fuzz rock to haunting, heart-string-tugging classical glory all in the same song. Try not to feel the pain on “Whipporwhill”: emotional assaults are a very real part of No Help For The Mighty Ones.
This is an incredibly ballsy album, and considering that three-fifths of the band are quite literally without testicles, it becomes all the more impressive. It takes serious guts to have an a Capella English Folk song on your doom/sludge album, yet “House Carpenter” feels right at home on this album, a tale of lovelorn loss and demonic intervention that so beautifully exemplifies what makes this album such a triumph. All throughout the album, the listener comes face to face with truly fearless songwriting and powerful tones, both musical and emotional. No Help For The Mighty Ones is a once in a decade type album, one that should and hopefully will have a profound effect on the genre as a whole. These Utah sad saps have really touched on something here, something glorious, wonderful and real. Not to be missed.
THE NOISE MADE BY PEOPLE
Subrosa: The Metal Band of My Dreams
I’m sure it’s fairly evident by now that I’m not a metalhead. Most metal I’ve heard doesn’t do much for me, but it’s for different reasons then usual: For me, it’s never been about the noise and abrasiveness, it’s been about how all metal, while advertised as being this rebellious genre, seems very formulaic. It always has the loud, precise guitars, the lyrics about blood and killing and other “shocking” topics, and of course it always has to have the awful grunting male vocals that drive me up the wall.
Basically, metal is very masculine and always has been. The music is pretty much a dick-waving contest to see who can outshock others and the entire genre seems to live in some prehistoric world where women are completely unseen and unheard, unless they’re approximating the aforementioned male vocal style of grunting incomprehensibly instead of actually, you know, singing. I love loud and abrasive music, but it has to have a purpose to really be effective. Metal is too often loud just for the sake of it.
These are just my opinions of the genre as an outsider, since I obviously have no concept of just how many different kinds of metal there are (according to Wikipedia, about 4.5 billion). Part of why I’m repulsed a bit by the genre is that it comes so close to being something I could really embrace, but bands keep indulging in the same clichés all the time. There seems to be very little growth in metal compared to other genres, as most bands are going by the same formula that it’s always had. It’s hard to blame them: Metal has a rabid fan base that will support you if you give them what they want, and what they want is the loud, fast-paced guitars, bro-tastic vocals, and songs about skinning cats for the devil.
I mention all of this because, as I’m sure most readers know by now, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with how soft and non-threatening most indie music is today. And eventually that feeling has led to me dipping my toes into the metal pool, albeit in a very cautious way with a look of disgust on my face.
Of course, the problem now was I had to find metal bands I actually liked, which avoided all of the issues I raised with the genre earlier. I’ve become a pretty big fan of the Japanese band Boris, who play loud, crushing rock music but also relentlessly experiment in other genres and resist falling into the staid clichés that I’ve come to associate with metal. Then, after some more searching, I was finally able to find my perfect metal band: Subrosa.
Subrosa are a band based in Salt Lake City, of all places, and they play the slower-paced, doom-laden metal that I’ve found myself gravitating to more than the hyper-aggressive thrash stuff. But what really makes the band unique, and what drew them to my attention, is that it’s a female-fronted group, with three different women that provide vocals. Even better, they actually sing instead of buying into this idea that all metal needs to have the same vocal style.
Two of the women also play violin, which adds an otherworldly element to the band’s sound, which is characterized by loud, sludgy riffs and slow tempos. There is a small amount of the growling vocals (usually relegated to the background), but for the most part the women sing in normal voices. The lyrics are focused on medieval, fantasy themes that remind me of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but the basic themes can be applied more universally. Overall, I find the band oddly reminiscent of the Breeders or the Raincoats, if one of those bands had randomly done a bunch of drugs, gotten obsessed with fantasy, and decided to record a metal album.
Subrosa is a textbook example of how women can really bring an effortlessly unique sound and perspective to a genre that sorely needs it. In the world of metal, just the fact that it’s women singing instead of a face-painted dude makes the band already sound completely different from their peers. Along with the violins, that turned their album No Help for the Mighty Ones into my go-to “heavy” album of 2011. It’s all the skull-crushing rock awesomeness that metal has always potentially provided, but without any of the annoying elements.
It also has a surprising amount of versatility. At times I find myself getting lost a bit in all the noise, almost like I do when listening to shoegaze. There’s even a medieval folky number, “House Carpenter,” at the end of the album, which is the kind of song that I doubt very many other metal bands could pull off.
I don’t know much about how Subrosa is received in the metal world, but they seem to be gaining popularity there, which is refreshing to see. As evidenced by a lame indie dork like me enjoying them, the band also has obvious crossover potential to indie listeners who are frustrated with the current state of music or just want to hear something different. I’m pretty sure no other band on earth sounds like Subrosa right now.