When I heard Annihilust's "Wake Ashes to Pain" for the first time, my eyes widened and all I could think was, "Oh, shit!" For one thing, its flawless intro totally reminded me of Angelcorpse; but it's also perfectly representative of their half of this split in that it exemplifies the manner in which the duo has now honed their attack into short, furious bursts of unexpectedly catchy carnage. Imagine, if you will, that a thrash band of the more ferocious nature like Possessed was covering blazing crossover hardcore tunes through the manic filter of The Accüsed or something. Let's just say: it rules!
Cease to Exist comes at things with a bit more rugged dissonance and seething undercurrents of black metal shaping their off-the-cuff approach. A bit darker, more mysterious, twisting and turning into abstracted directions... but no less wildly aggressive and in your face. They, too, display growth herein—perhaps unintentionally—as their often grit-soaked and noise-drenched production values have warmed up just enough to allow a bit more detail and atmosphere to bleed through.
The two groups being such obvious sonic brethren, this split cassette simply makes perfect sense. Stream the entire EP below—order here (U.S.) or here (U.K.)—followed by an informative discussion with the bands' frontmen, Brian and Aaron, who also happen to be the folks behind Killeveryone Records and Negate Everything, the labels responsible for delivering this madness to the masses...
I completely shit myself when I heard "Wake Ashes to Pain" for the first time. The new material sheds no ferocity, but I was absolutely floored by its newfound energy and catchiness. Brian, you had mentioned to me that you felt the same when listening back to these tracks—that something had cranked up a notch. Was the mindset any different throughout the writing for this split?
Brian: Yes and no! Nothing really changed in our mindset or attitude, and the increased intensity and aggression may simply have been the result of us being a newly-formed band and still finding our sound a bit. John and I are both first and foremost music fans, so when we write and play, the results are always going to be songs we want or need to hear at the time. John wrote the music for this release, and he had told me that besides wanting to be more discordant this time around, he was really just nitpicking his own songs he wrote for our debut EP and killing off everything about our sound that he was not satisfied with anymore. So, John's mindset was just to write better material for his own personal listening pleasure, and to also advance us musically as a band with every new release.
We were so stoked on our first EP—I still am!—and at the time, that was what we really wanted to play and hear. But this time, I don't know, things just shifted a bit with these songs in a very noticeable way, and that may have just been a result of the carefree, no pressure attitude surrounding this release. We had immediately agreed to do the split with Cease to Exist when Aaron initially proposed the idea, as they are a crazed, unhinged band giving no fucks, and Aaron is just a very cool guy. John and I knew we had to come up with material, but nothing was ever scheduled or even talked about between us as far as recording/writing went. John just surprised me with three musically complete tracks in my inbox one day and, like you, pants were shat in and the lyrics came effortlessly. I wrote the lyrics a bit differently this time, with less lyrical content and more drawn-out screaming, so the vocals definitely had room to open up, where they may not have gotten that chance before. And the vocal recordings were just nailed so fast.
In hindsight, especially after hearing our new stuff, our first release was maybe a bit too thought out, but what can you do? We wanted our debut to be perfect. This time, we just ripped it up in record time, with little thought to anything else but thrashing fucking hard. No thought = savage metal!
We still recorded the vocals in my bathroom, though, for no other reason than that is where we did it the first time. But this time we did the vocals next to my toilet, instead of in my shower/tiled vocal booth like we did for the first EP, so that probably created a different mindset, for sure. Freaking the fuck out in a small, enclosed, glass-doored space amongst bottles of shampoo and my wife's feminine razors was surreal, to say the least. Like performance art.
This outing also marks a step forward for Cease to Exist. The tracks seem to expand into wider directions, while the production values feel just a touch crisper—even highlighting some nice bass work at times. It achieves a more pointed focus in the end, without compromising the project's core identity.
Aaron: Personally, I don't feel there's any significant difference between this set of songs and our last couple of releases, to me it's just another bunch of classic Cease to Exist bangers. Nasty, grinding, blackened hardcore that will sonically stab you in the face and piss in your ears! I guess it sounds more violent and chaotic than our previous stuff. Me and Faz (our guitarist) wrote the songs in 40 minutes with a guitar and a drum machine one evening over tea and pizza, then we got together with our drummer and bassist and recorded them a couple of weeks later with no rehearsal or anything. Everything was recorded live in one or two takes, then the vocals were overdubbed a week later. We've always been a real half-arsed band, although we did practice regularly for a couple of years way back and spend more time on writing songs. These days, we prefer to keep it spontaneous and unpredictable. We were in and out of the studio within an hour or so, so that probably added to the resulting intensity. We just got in there and thrashed it out.
The absolutely fucking sick bass playing on this recording is thanks to Sam Knight, of the hardcore band Renounced. He'd never played with us before, he just turned up to the session and smashed the songs out effortlessly. I have to big him up on that.
Both bands draw from an array of influences to land on sounds that tend to center around pure, raw aggression; but remain distinct from your contemporaries and from each other. Annihilust leans perhaps more toward a thrashing hardcore/punk side; Cease to Exist channeling a frenetic black metal aesthetic.
Aaron: Yeah, man, I can only agree with you. In the beginning, we were still very much a hardcore band. We were very influenced by bands like Gehenna and Ironside; plus Blasphemy, Profanatica, Burzum, etc.—all that generic black metal and "holy terror" stuff. Then Faz joined on guitar and he's very much from a punk background, but also listens to a lot of grind, so he brought that into the band, I'm not sure he even really listens to black metal. After the demo, I started obsessively listening to lo-fi black metal like Belkètre, and introduced everyone in the band to G.I.S.M. and Watchmaker, and we've just kept getting faster and uglier ever since.
All I really have to say about Annihilust is that they fucking rage! I think each of our sides of the split complement each other brilliantly. Their songs are on a whole other level now, they've definitely developed their own distinct style and the new tunes pounded my fucking head in as soon as I heard them. They're a bit more professional in their recording approach than us, but beside that I don't really want to compare us. As far as I see it, both bands are a pure sonic expression of disgust and negativity, we both make this music for the love of it and never for approval or acceptance from the wider scene.
Brian: That is interesting, because based on lengthy musical conversations I've had with Aaron, and looking at the body of work from he and his peers, Cease to Exist definitely has the more hardcore/punk pedigree, for sure! Whereas I can tell you most assuredly that both John and I come from a very, very metal background. Despite John and I appreciating good hardcore and punk—as well as me going through an embarrassing phase of my life where I would wear baseball caps to shows and mosh it up shirtless—I do not feel there is much hardcore/punk in our sound. But, yeah, your description of Cease to Exist's sound is dead on. They are extremely black metal, for sure! Very raw, primal, and evil stuff, heavy on the atmospheric noise. I think their hardcore backgrounds creep in once you hear that bass crescendo into some killer, furniture-destroying mosh part. The musical feelings between us are mutual, where I was hooked on their stuff the first time I heard it. These songs just kill, and I am truly honored to be releasing stuff with a band of this ferocity.
As far as our sound goes, maybe our '80s/'90s U.K. grind influences are shining through, and that may be where you hear the punk from. And as I have stated publicly and without shame before, Ray Cappo is a huge influence on my vocals. Say what you will about him and his bands, but that guy could scream like nobody else when he went for it. I don't know, upon reflection you could be totally right! It is cool to hear someone outside of the band's take on what we actually sound like, as opposed to what we ourselves just feel we sound like. Self-perception is a funny thing, for sure. But, yeah, Aaron, John, and myself certainly listen to and enjoy—and are therefore probably influenced by—anything and everything, which certainly comes out in both bands' music.
Similarly, each band treads its own path with the lyrics. On the Annihilust side, "Half-Mast Constant" bears a touch of socio-political commentary, for example; whereas "Inner Nothingness" (amongst others) hints at a more directly nihilistic stance from Cease to Exist. Talk about your lyrical direction a bit.
Brian: I constantly take notes and jot down potential song titles and lyrics. These words and phrases may come from movies, books, articles I am reading, outside stimuli, etc.; and just have to strike me in some way—be it the subject matter, the intention, unique phrasing and obscure references, or maybe the phrase just sounds metal as hell. Whatever the reason I may find interest, in this digital age, I can thankfully just type these lyrical fragments and song titles into my phone anywhere I happen to be. Once John provides me a finished musical track, I open my notes up and see if any of the wordage matches up phonetically or rhythmically with the song structure. Or, maybe a potential song title will just match up with the atmosphere the music generates. In my initial run-through, I sometimes nail the chorus—or whatever counts as a chorus—first and then build the song around the title and whatever small lyrical construct just spontaneously occurred. It is like puzzle-solving to me, where the words are already there, I just have to keep writing until I successfully uncover the solution.
In the case of "Half-Mast Constant," I remember I thought that title up while driving with my wife. We live in a very rural area of New Hampshire, and to be honest, the consistent outrage that dominates the news nowadays just isn't really our thing. So, we kind of just go about our business in our small town and have turned very apathetic toward all of the hyper-aggrandized political dramas that seem to have become the only thing anyone cares about anymore. As a result, we sometimes miss out on actual news we should certainly be paying attention to. For example, we heard about the Boston Marathon bombings from our family in Portugal, and had no idea anything had happened that day at all. But it seemed that every time we took a drive outside of our country bumpkin bubble, we'd see a flag hung at half-mast for no obviously apparent reason, and I kept thinking to myself, "Shit, what horrible atrocity has been committed now?" Only to find out that nothing especially horrible happened at all, and my instinctual trepidation and conditioned sense of sorrow was really for something that was totally inconsequential to me and my loved ones personally. So, is every time I see a flag hanging at half-mast supposed to make me forget that I have things to do in the world of the living, and that whoever died meant nothing to me or affected me in any way? But it was these abstract and semi-random thoughts which brought that title and its lyrics to life in song.
Aaron: There's actually nothing I can say about our lyrics, because there aren't any. Now that's nihilism for you! Halfway through writing our LP back in 2013, I just gave up on using lyrics altogether. I found it was more enjoyable to just go totally unhinged on the mic and just scream my arse off without having to worry about using actual words. When I was still writing lyrics they were somewhere between nihilism and my own subjective interpretation of the more mystical aspects of Buddhism and early Christianity mixed up with other literature that interests me; such as the work of Alex Trocchi, Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Gurdjieff... The aesthetic of the band is still heavily defined by those influences regardless.
This split feels "meant to be," in a way. It's such a perfect pairing—an efficient harnessing of unhinged chaos. I know that you guys are on the same page in many respects, so on a "kindred spirit" level, what was it like during the process of putting this all together?
Aaron: Very smooth, me and Brian get along great and share a lot of similar attitudes and musical tastes. Shit, this guy even got me into The Egyptian Lover! Just for that I'll be eternally grateful. We've been in contact for a while now and have nothing but respect for each other, so everything is always super cool. It was inevitable we would end up collaborating eventually. We actually already worked together before, as Brian was responsible for the artwork for a cassette LP by a psychedelic black metal band of mine called Ewige Schlangenkraft. The piece of work he did is an absolute masterpiece! The cover for the split is also absolutely awesome. Anyway, I'll get my tongue out of Brian's bumhole now...
Back to the split, the only shame was that I couldn't afford to release it on 7" as I had originally planned. Vinyl is just too fucking expensive these days. But fuck it, tapes are great, and I will slap anyone who disagrees with me.
Brian: You are totally right! This split was most certainly meant to be! As soon as we got the Cease to Exist tracks, both John and I just knew that this was going to be such a solid joint effort in which the bands complement one another and work as a complete album—as opposed to some splits, where the bands are mismatched and people who buy them only care about and listen to one of the bands while completely ignoring the other. You, Aaron, John, and I have all independently commented upon how well the bands work together, and that feeling is definitely derived just as much from our personal relationships as our musical ones. Or, our personal relationships were a very good indicator that we would be musically compatible.
Aaron and I just hit it off immediately via email, and the process was effortless. Aaron and his bands and label are incredibly productive, so all it took was the suggestion from him that we do a split together and everything just fell into place. Cease to Exist is located in Old England and we are located in New England, so the exchange of music and art files—as well as all contact—was conducted easily over emails and put together as a whole as each piece came in. It was really that simple, and this drama-free process is most definitely reflected in the finished product of both bands. There was never any stress about anything in regard to the making of this release, and therefore both bands could just go musically apeshit without a care in the world. As soon as I got the test press of the cassette back from the plant, I just looped it over and over again, despite having the songs digitally. When put together, the songs and bands just become one composition.